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Thread: Mandolin newbie

  1. #1

    Default Mandolin newbie

    I've played guitar for about 45 years. I want to learn to play the mandolin, but I don't want to break the bank (I would like to stay married). Can anyone give me recommendations in the $500-1k range?

  2. #2

    Default Re: Mandolin newbie

    Eastman MD305 or Morris flat top (or used A4)

  3. #3
    small instrument, big fun Dan in NH's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin newbie

    Welcome! Guitar player turned mandolin player here, too. Plus most of the rest of us.

    Mandolins have two body styles, A body & F body. F bodies have a scroll on the top left corner, and add ~$200 to the price of the mandolin.

    Some people say they can hear a difference in tone between A body and F body mandolins. Maybe they can, but I can’t.

    Both body styles can be either oval sound hole like a guitar or f hole like a violin. Oval hole tends to be warmer, while f hole tends to have more “bark.” Oval hole tends to be preferred for Celtic & folk fiddle tunes, while f hole mandolins scream “bluegrass.”

    In your stated price range both Kentucky and Eastman make nice (A body) mandolins.

    Many forum sponsors offer free shipping and will do a full setup on your mandolin before shipping. As a guitar player you know that’s important, but for mandolin it’s even MORE important. Get yours from a sponsor.

    Check out mandolessons.com. They have some good resources for first time buyers.

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    small instrument, big fun Dan in NH's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by NDO View Post
    Eastman MD305 or Morris flat top (or used A4)
    MD-305 from a forum sponsor - $600, comes with a gig bag
    Arm rest - $20
    Tone-Gard - $80
    Strap - $20 - $60
    Picks - $10, mandolins like stiffer picks than guitars. I like Dunlop Primetone 1.5 Large Triangles

  6. #5
    small instrument, big fun Dan in NH's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin newbie

    305 is the A body f hole mandolin. 304 is the same mandolin with an oval sound hole.

    315 & 314 are the same mandolins but F body, with a scroll and a $250 price uptick.

    But MAN, F body mandolins look cool. 😎

    And you could get the whole kit I outlined above with an Eastman 315 F body f hole mandolin without breaking your budget TOO badly.

    Just sayin’…

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    Registered User Steve 2E's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin newbie


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    small instrument, big fun Dan in NH's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve 2E View Post
    Oval hole flat top. Very different from an arched top mandolin. Not a “grasser“ for sure.

    I like that they offer wide necks, and that they’ll put a wide mandolin neck on a mandola body.

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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin newbie

    In addition to my reply on the AGF - if you've been playing guitar for 45 years you've probably played some begginer level instruments and up to very good quality guitars. Mandolin is much more of a small niche. You've probably found that you can try out a bunch of guitars in some shops, but haven't run across a lot of mandolins.

    I started on a Chinese built Ibanez that was ok. Over the past 15 years I've had a chance to play a lot of mandolins. The truth for me is these days, there isn't much in the traditional carved mandolin that sounds and plays decent in the $500 range. You can buy a cheapo beginner instrument but IMO the tone of these is nothing like a mando ought to sound.

    I was in a large Midwestern city recently and tried a bunch of guitars at 5 different shops at a variety of price points. When I tried their mandolin offerings they were truly underwhelming.

    Your best bet for something you can enjoy longer term is to set a budget of $1 - $2 k and comb through the classified here for a used Silverangel, Morris, Mike Black, Cricketfiddle or similar handmade instrument by a US builder.

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    Default Re: Mandolin newbie

    I am kinda like you, 40+ year guitar player. I recently got a Kentucky KM-276 oval hole. I don't really have enough experience to have an opinion, but i really like it. It has plenty of punch and sounds nice when played quietly. I have a friend who is a good player, and he likes it. I'm a plucker, not picker myself, but I'm learning. Welcome to the Cafe, I've found it to be a very informative group. joe

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    Default Re: Mandolin newbie

    Most folks who have been around awhile have answered this question many times.
    The general consensus - from those who know mandolins - is that a used A style mandolin will give you the most bang for your buck.
    F style mandolins are cool - but you’re paying for scrolls and points that don’t improve tone or playability.
    Therefore, kind of a waste of money at your price point.
    (get theF style with your next mandolin. Yes, there will be a next mandolin)

    Good luck, happy hunting, and welcome to the Cafe.

    Kirk
    (also a guitar player turned mandolin player…)

  12. #11

    Default Re: Mandolin newbie

    What kind of music are you planning to play, and with how big of a group? The right mandolin for you will likely depend on these factors.

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  14. #12
    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve 2E View Post
    Welcome, GG!

    Big Muddy, absolutely! All solid wood, made in the USA, great sound, reasonable prices, cool look, lots of wood choices, guaranteed conversation pieces. And Mike's a great guy.

    Won't get you into into certain bluegrass circles, but they're heartily welcomed by players of all other acoustic styles.
    Last edited by Charlie Bernstein; Nov-30-2022 at 11:44am.
    Gibson A-Junior snakehead (Keep on pluckin'!)

  15. #13
    small instrument, big fun Dan in NH's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin newbie

    No bluegrass jam would ever turn anyone away for not playing an f hole mandolin. Yes, your tone will be a little different but different doesn’t mean wrong.

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  17. #14
    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by milli857 View Post
    What kind of music are you planning to play, and with how big of a group? The right mandolin for you will likely depend on these factors.
    Good question. I endorsed Big Muddy (post 12) because they're a great fit for anything but bluegrass and the various schools of hard rock. (Metal shredders need not apply.)
    Gibson A-Junior snakehead (Keep on pluckin'!)

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    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by ggibson189 View Post
    I've played guitar for about 45 years. I want to learn to play the mandolin, but I don't want to break the bank (I would like to stay married). Can anyone give me recommendations in the $500-1k range?
    Another small point: Since you're new, your tastes haven't developed. What you get now might not be what you want in three or four years. That means your choice now is pretty much a crap-shoot.

    So just go ahead and take the plunge. The sooner you get started, the sooner you'll begin your VMD, the Voyage of Mandolin Discovery.
    Gibson A-Junior snakehead (Keep on pluckin'!)

  19. #16
    small instrument, big fun Dan in NH's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin newbie

    Yeah, I bought my second mandolin this last weekend and am already saving up for my third.

    Probably sell the Kentucky and one of my guitars to help fund.

  20. #17

    Default Re: Mandolin newbie

    A used Kentucky 150 is a good bet if you want something a little dryer for bluegrass. Oval mandolins are great.. I have one.. but they're especially good for folk music if you want notes to hang in the air... Which can
    be a great sound.

    For notes that will sound dry and clean where where each note can be heard separately from the other ones.. like bluegrass or other really fast fast single string work in a group..... Most would choose an F hole.

    Eventually you'll have one of each.

    By the way.. if you can find one in really good shape.. Gibson a model ovalholes from the 1910s can have a really great sound the prices are more like 1200 to 1800.

    Country repeat what everyone here says again and again.. having it set up is so important

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    Default Re: Mandolin newbie

    I'd suggest Eastman 305 or Kentucky 150 or 250, used if you can find a good one. They're good carved top f hole A style beginner mandolins, and well known so you shouldn't have any trouble selling again if you upgrade or move onto another instrument, or maybe just have to justify your buy to a significant other... They feel sound and look different, so try both.

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