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Thread: Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

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    Default Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

    I've played lead guitar and bass for 40+ years in bar bands, inherited a Michael Kelly Legacy from my FIL and learned enough to get thru some Grateful Dead last year for a jam band situation, switching between lead guitar, bass, and mandolin. Currently managing and producing for a young original country songwriter who needs mandolin on original tunes. So I'm now doing a deep dive ... learning the the right way, working on on instrumentation and arrangements for recording sessions, etc.

    I've learned how to set up the MK, added a piezo, etc. and it's working out okay. But am curious about a few things:

    Due to years of motorcycle accidents and fights my hands aren't in the best shape and I'm struggling sometimes with fingering. Are there mandolin brands that have even slightly wider necks and string spacing?

    Is it possible to replace the tuners with something having more spaced/staggered in the horizontal plane to make tuning with the tiny keys easier? I've seen pics of some brands that appear to show the keys more staggered making access easier.

    For an upgrade, still within our budget, are the sub $1000 Kentucky models noticeably better than what I have? Was looking at the KY 150 or 250. Or higher spec used. Or Loar LM-510?

    What price range in Loar, Gold Tone, or KY puts me ahead of the MK Legacy?

    Thanks all!

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    Registered User mingusb1's Avatar
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    Default Re: Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

    My experience was that the best < 1K instruments were Eastmans. I also think you could find an old Stradolin that could sound real good.

    But neither of these would have a wide nut/neck. I've got real big hands and I don't use a wide nut/neck. I found that playing double stops (2 string "chords") and open chord shapes didn't require lots of space between the strings. I just had to get used to some new techniques coming from bass and guitar.

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    Default Re: Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

    A lower tier Kentucky may or may not be a tone upgrade, and you won’t know until you can play them side by side. A sure upgrade would be a Silverangel Econo, which can be had new for $1500 and used sometimes for less. I think Ken will do a wide nut, but 1 and 1/8 is his standard, iirc. Northfield makes a wide nut and I think I’ve seen some Collings WN mandos, but those are substantially more $$. My Rigel CT 110 is 1 and 3/16. While that model is beyond your budget you may be able to find a Rigel A style closer to what you’re thinking of spending (though probably still a bit of a stretch). Good luck!
    Chuck

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    Default Re: Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

    Thanks for the info. I guess I just gotta adjust to the fretboard. Truefire has a mandolin course for guitarists that I'm starting next week. I'm sure it'll come together. Having a blast learning something new. Listening to a lot of bluegrass lately.

    I researched Eastman and found they have a few models in the $599 - $899 range like the 304, 305, and the 315. I'll try to find them in stock within driving distance and take mine to compare. I may find the MK is perfectly fine for now.

    Thanks again for the info.

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

    In the $1000 and down price ranges there is little or no consistency. Playing and choosing is the only sensible thing to do IMO if better sound is what you are looking for. I've found Kentucky mandolins to be the most likely to sound good in these price ranges, but it still comes down to the individual instrument because of the lack of consistency.
    FWIW, and this might not apply to you, it is not uncommon for guitar and bass players learning mandolin to seek wider mandolin fingerboards, but once they become mandolin players (as opposed to guitar players who double on mandolin) they learn to like "standard" width mandolin necks.

    For quality of build and a wider neck, you might want to consider an old Gibson A in "players" condition. Sometimes they can be had in the vicinity of $1000.

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    Default Re: Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

    Eastman or Kentucky. I would suggest Eastman 505 or higher number, (600 series have built in pickups) there are good bargains on used ones particularly in the classifieds here. Lots of folks swear by their Eastman 3xx models, but I think there is a good deal of confirmation bias involved—for many people it’s their first decent mandolin. I believe there’s more longterm value in the higher-end Eastmans, used or even new sometimes. For one thing you will be less tempted to start hotrodding a higher-end one—by the time you have swapped out the tuners, bridge and what-all and added a pickup on a 305 you will have spent the difference and it will still be a 305.

    When considering a used Eastman, my number one question is fret condition. The narrow frets they almost all use are wear-prone. Ideal acquisition, used, is one that has recently been expertly refretted with wider ones like EVO. See eastmanguitars.com for all current Mando specs.
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    Default Re: Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

    You don't say what kind of music you're playing (that needs a pickup), so unless you are fixed on an F-style or F-hole, arch top, Northfield makes a flat-top, oval hole model that's basic, but well made, and does come in a "wide-nut" configuration for a bit over $1k. There's even a used one in the Classifieds for less:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/195340#195340
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    Default Re: Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

    I'm adding simple mandolin accompaniment to original 'outlaw country' tunes. I've been able to do that by ear and using basic chords. Same way I started on guitar 50 years ago. But I signed up for Truefire's Mandolin For Guitarist course today to learn the right way. I've had basic music theory on guitar and on bass but have forgotten a lot of things. The course should be a good review. I've also found myself listening to bluegrass lately, something I loved as a kid growing up in Wilkes Co NC. I'd like to get to that level eventually.

    I'm beginning to understand that a wider nut isn't going to help. I was a decent classic rock lead player for many years. But old age and injuries make it tough now. Mandolin equally so. Will just keep grinding.

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    Default Re: Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

    I also inherited a White Eagle banjo that I'd like to learn to play after this recording push is over. I grew up listening to older cousins play this stuff and despite years and years of gigging rock, metal, and blues listening to bluegrass stirs something. Must be in my DNA.

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    Default Re: Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

    So I got to play a Loar 310 (?) and a $500 Washburn this afternoon and neither was louder, sweeter, or easier to play than my old MK Legacy. Both have been set up and are played regularly by real players. The action on the Washburn was higher and the tuners not as good. I think what I have will serve me for long time while learning.

    It was encouraging to be told I'm the right track learning simplified chords and mando scales. I can play a bit of stuff I learned by ear. And I went thru the stuff I've written for my songwriter bud. It's nice to be excited by a new instrument and be told I'm doing okay at it.

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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Snakum View Post
    So I got to play a Loar 310 (?) and a $500 Washburn this afternoon and neither was louder, sweeter, or easier to play than my old MK Legacy. Both have been set up and are played regularly by real players. The action on the Washburn was higher and the tuners not as good. I think what I have will serve me for long time while learning.

    It was encouraging to be told I'm the right track learning simplified chords and mando scales. I can play a bit of stuff I learned by ear. And I went thru the stuff I've written for my songwriter bud. It's nice to be excited by a new instrument and be told I'm doing okay at it.
    Good move to pass on those two - neither the Loar or the Washburn would have moved you up the mandolin food chain - they'd be sideways or potentially even backwards moves.
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    Default Re: Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

    The MK legacy was decent for it's price point. I have had a couple thru here and they sound good once setup.
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    Default Re: Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Snakum View Post
    Is it possible to replace the tuners with something having more spaced/staggered in the horizontal plane to make tuning with the tiny keys easier? I've seen pics of some brands that appear to show the keys more staggered making access easier.
    Get one of those plastic stringwinders and use that when you tune.
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    Default Re: Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

    I have a few of those. Didn't think about using one to get to those tiny keys. Thanks!

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    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

    Some guitar string winders might be too big. I’ve bought a couple of special string winders that fit the smaller mandolin tuner buttons better, but they don’t work on all my mandolins. Depends on button size on the mandolin, too.
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    Default Re: Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

    Radim Zinkl had Breedlove make a super wide fretboard mandolin for him. Not sure if the current lineup offers anything similar. My guess is it would be more than $1 k.

    I have larger than average hands myself and never had an issue with fiddle, mandolin, ukulele (or guitar, mandocello, upright bass....)

    On my custom 10 stringers (not lots of choices for 5-on-a-plate F style tuning machines) I use 5 individual Grover Rotomatic machines on each side. To retrofit these requires plugging, drilling, filling (screw holes) and refinishing. Otherwise mandolin tuning machine spacing has been standardized for almost 100 years.

    To play mandolin is to deal with/adjust to how mandolins are actually built - not expect the mandolin to adapt to our beginner's idea of how a mandolin can be played like a guitar.

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    Default Re: Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

    I'd keep Big Muddy on your radar. Handmade flat tops. You can configure em how you want on their website. Not bluegrass machines but good for old time, Folk, etc.
    https://www.bigmuddymandolin.com/

    Also The Mandolin Store has a blemished Eastman 305 for $449.
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    Default Re: Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

    I emailed a user here (Greg) who has a gorgeous Eastman MD-605 near me. If it is noticeably better than my MK I'm thinking I might take the plunge. I've really gotten into it this past 3 weeks.

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    Default Re: Long-winded general questions from a mandolin newbie ...

    Interestingly enough, now 3 months in, the 1 1/8 nut width is perfect. Due to injuries I've had to modify chords to play cleanly and without pain. And the narrow (for me) spacing let's me easily bar across two sets of strings to run chords up and down the neck. I've gotten used to it, wouldn't want to go smaller, though.

    I've also done a complete setup using the Meldrum book and RSW's videos and the MK is actually playing well and projects fine. It will definitely need a fret job soon and that doesn't make financial sense. If I'm still playing regularly this Summer I'm going to step up to something in the $1k range.

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