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Thinking of buying a mandolin

26 Jul 07 - 07:25 PM (#2112188)
Subject: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: Nickhere

Hi Mudcatters,
lately I've been thinking of buying a mandolin, as I've been playing guitar for over 16 years and find it limiting in a session where everyone else is also playing guitar. I don't know anything much about mandolins except they too, are stringed instruments. Can anybody offer any suggestions of good brands to buy / value for money / brands to avoid, what I should look for, tips on playing etc.,? I aim to spend not more than 200 euro on it, though, as I'm not sure how it'll work out for me. I'd need something with enough volume to compete reasonably with one or two acoustic guiatrs without needing to be plugged into an amp.

I'm not sure about this, but are mandolins tuned to an 'open tuning'?

26 Jul 07 - 07:30 PM (#2112194)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: Tattie Bogle

Same as fiddle tuning generally, GDAE, tho' you can use other tunings just as you can with guitar. 8 strings, 2 on each note. I have a banjo-mandolin (which I have yet to learn to play) but if you want LOUD it is certainly louder, unamped, than a standard mandolin, but maybe harder to come by.

26 Jul 07 - 09:12 PM (#2112255)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: Leadfingers

As with anything else , you gets what you pays for ! Look for whatever you can afford second hand , rather than new , and check out as many as you can in shops locally ! There are a lot of reasonably priced 'Dolins around , and some are a lot better than others ! For 200 Euros , a good second hand will be a HELL of a lot better than a New one !

26 Jul 07 - 09:31 PM (#2112269)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: GUEST,Mooh in limbo will have more than enough information to get you started. Mudcat regular Mooh is a sometime visitor there too.

Peace, Mooh.

27 Jul 07 - 12:16 AM (#2112313)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: iancarterb

If you are really keen to keep the money small, see if you can find a used Tacoma. For a really fine mandolin at a comparatively low price, check out Eastman, and buy one before the Chinese currency is allowed to float. These are fine instruments at about 1/4 to 1/3 the price of Weber/Collings/Gibsons. They make my luthier friends anxious.
Carter B

27 Jul 07 - 02:37 AM (#2112357)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: Richard Bridge

As you are pricing in Euros, you are probably in Europe. Wherever you are, avoid Saga musical instruments like the plague - the "lifetime guarantee" is not worth the paper (a very small bit inside the instrument) it is written on.

There is a bloke putting some on ebay from time to time - I think East German - which look OK at your price range but I have not played one. He calls them "celtic mandolin".

Banjo mandolins are very piercing and shrill - but think about how well banjos generally stay in tune and apply that learning to an instrument with 8 strings on a very short scale where it is IMPORTANT that each course is truly in unison. You will spend more time tuning than playing.

For "under 200 Euros" I echo that your best bet is second hand and take a friend who does know mandolins to evaluate when you inspect. As well as sound you want no rattles up the neck and an action at the octave of about 1 millimetre. If you are going to join an amplified band or use an electronic tuner (unless the tuner is a clip-on), it is a definite advantage to get a pluggable, preferably with an undersaddle not "contact" pickup.

Or just get a cheap one off ebay to find out if the playing falls to hand for you, and bin it or re-ebay it or hang it on the wall as an ornament if you don't get on with it. Second-hand Crafters are seen on ebay in your price bracket, nearly, and since they are like Ovations a washing-up bowl with added bits, they are more resistant to abuse than all-wood instruments. They sound OK-ish (a bit nasal to my ears) and usually plug well.

27 Jul 07 - 04:56 AM (#2112407)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: SharonA

All good advice above. ( I say this as someone who was in Nickhere's position a couple of years ago!) Let me add to the mix:

Don't bother with the "Rogue" model that Musician's Friend sells online (totally different from the Breedlove Rogue). The Musician's Friend instrument is cheap for a reason! The quality is uneven and there is not good bracing inside it. I received one as a present, and the top slowly collapsed over 18 months of light playing.

Definitely try to find a used version of an instrument that would have a "mid-range" price if purchased new, even if the used's price is a bit higher than you anticipated spending. If you decide you don't want to pursue learning to play it, it will be easier to resell than a cheaply-made instrument.

Think about the style you want, since different styles will have different sounds. The "celtic" mandolin mentioned above will have a round or oval soundhole and a "barking" sort of sound. Bluegrass players favor the F-style mandos; they have a strength of tone that will not be drowned out by a mere couple of guitars -- these things are made to compete with banjos for your ear's attention! The A-style mando with F-holes is somewhere in between in tone (more sweet and less shrill than an F-style, less barky than a celtic), and it tends to be less expensive than the F-style. Roundback or "potato bug" mandolins are great for Middle Eastern music but they're difficult to hold unless you're sitting cross-legged on the floor!

Do you have a friend or relative who might be persuaded to lend his/her mandolin to you for a trial run to see if you enjoy playing it, before you make the commitment to purchase one of your own?

27 Jul 07 - 06:10 AM (#2112437)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: vielleuse

I thoroughly approve of this plan, the mandolin is a great instrument to have in sessions where people are mostly playing guitars. It fits in well and adds an extra sparkle.

You can pick out little riffs and counter-melodies - the instrument is better at this than at chords really and in this respect differs from guitar I think. It helps to practice your scales so that you can easily play tunes. Open tunings work well also: GDGD is an obvious one.

27 Jul 07 - 06:11 AM (#2112439)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: vielleuse

Afterthought: on the other hand mandolins are useless in sessions dominated by fiddles and/or accordions as no-one will hear you plinking away quietly in the background.

27 Jul 07 - 07:33 AM (#2112488)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: mandotim

Just a comment about tone; I wouldn't describe celtic (i.e. flat, uncarved top and back) style mandolins as having a 'bark'. Most of them have a softer, ringing tone with plenty of sustain (for a mandolin). It's the carved top F and A style mandolins that tend to have that dry, woody 'bark' that is so prized by bluegrass players when playing the characteristic off-beat 'chop'.
Having said that, there are some categories of what to look for in a mandolin.
Tone; does the mandolin sound 'right' for the intended music?
Volume; is it loud enough to be heard in the proposed setting?
Playability; Is it easy to play, and does it play in tune? Do the strings stay in tune?
Appearance; down to personal preference, but the fit and finish should be acceptable.
Most of these factors can be improved after purchase by changing the setup(except volume; it's hard to make a quiet mandolin louder, unless you amplify it). If just starting out, I would say the most important is playability; a high action and poor neck will build bad habits very quickly.

27 Jul 07 - 08:56 AM (#2112540)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: SharonA

OK, Tim. Guess I was barking up the wrong tree. You might say I was arf track. To your superior knowledge of the instrument, I bow. Wow! :^)

To Tim's comment about playability, let me add: Just like guitars, different mandolin models have different string spacings, neck widths, back-of-neck shapes, etc. It's good to shop around to find the one that fits your hand most comfortably. If you have large hands, check out the Garrison line.

27 Jul 07 - 08:56 AM (#2112541)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: Nick

I bought one recently for similar reasons to you.

I bought a HORRIBLE cheap mandolin locally which had a poor sound and which had terrible intonation problems, which I took back. Anything guaranteed to put you off playing is to have something that is that crappy.

I bought one of these - Tanglewood TMS mandolin - new off ebay for £69 and am very happy with it. I actually bought it from this seller - maymusic - but notice that the previous price of £69 has rather shot up! Whether you could still buy one for what I paid I don't know but he does accept best offers. Still I'm happy that I got value for money and have a fiddle playing friend who has played it and who was genuinely surprised when he found out what I paid for it and promptly rushed off to try and buy one only to find the price rather higher!

It's nicely put together and nicely finished. For the level I play at - I'm a reasonable guitarist and am just learning a load of tunes - it's fine for me.

As an aside I find it really fun to play and so different from playing a guitar. I find that I am a much more fluent single note player on a mandolin than I am on a guitar - perhaps the spacing, who knows?

27 Jul 07 - 09:23 AM (#2112562)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: Richard Bridge

If you go for an "Army and Navy" style you may well find it bright and cutting enough that when the scrapers and squeezers get going, you can switch to chords and give them earache

27 Jul 07 - 03:08 PM (#2112822)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: Grab

David Kilpatrick imports instruments from Eastern Europe at very reasonable prices. is his site, and he's a Catter too. Seems like he's maybe not still going on the importing though, but you could give him a call.

If you want volume to cut through, you're probably looking at an F or A style mando instead of the flat Celtic one.

You could also consider an octave mandola (octave down from a regular mandolin) if you want something more in the guitar pitch range, but they don't really have the punch to cut through a roomful of guitars. Usually I use a 1mm pick which gives nice tone - I keep a 3mm pick for when I need volume and sod the quality! :-)


27 Jul 07 - 04:57 PM (#2112878)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: van lingle has a number of pages on choosing mandolins and some mandos to sell as well. I've owned a couple of Army Navy style Flatirons and found them good quality USA made instruments with lots of volume and a bright, cutting tone, as Richard noted. They weren't the equal of my old Army Navy, which disintegrated, but a great buy at 250 to 300 US dollars used. Not sure if they still make them but they do turn up used now and then.vl

27 Jul 07 - 05:48 PM (#2112916)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: wilco

I have a small acoustic music store in East Tennesee USA, and I stock about 150 mandolins.
    Most of the Asian stuff is made by Samick, as a contractor far most of the major names.
    The best buy, bar none, are the Eastmans. Their best-selling model is the 615. I sell a lot of of 504 ($750.00 USA List with case)) and 604s, which are oval hole A models. Great hand-carved instruments.
    Stay away from Fender, Johnson, Paris Swing, Alvarez, Bean Blossum, Morgan Monroe, Rogue, Samick, and most of the kentucky.
    A good second choice are the A model from Michael kelly ($450.00) US.
    There is no advantage of buying an F model over an A model; it's all cosmetci.
    For about $300.00 US, look at the Kentucky 160 or 172. This is the best buy in the Kentucky line.
    Any mandoline that retails under $185.00 US will have cheap tuners and incurable set-up problems.

Steve Daugherty
Mountain Music

28 Jul 07 - 03:48 PM (#2113519)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: GUEST,vielleuse

If you're holding off spending decent money on a mandolin for fear you won't like it/end up playing it much, how about trying to borrow one for a few weeks and see how you get on with it? Then you'll have a better idea whether it's worth investing in a decent one or not. Money spent on a bad instrument is money chucked down the drain as you won't want to play it anyway.

29 Jul 07 - 03:31 PM (#2114149)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: Tim theTwangler

I recently attended A music gathering at Staithes
We met among many others a lovely couple from LIncoln and the Guy(Pete) Had made a mando from a kit.
The kit cost him£100 and the Mando sounds fine and a lot better than many you can buy for a lot more dosh.
If you are a handy type it may be worth having a look around for one.

29 Jul 07 - 04:20 PM (#2114176)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: Nickhere

Thanks to all the folks who've contributed here...lots of food for thought!

The Tanglewood on ebay sounds good - I generally find Tanglewood guitars quite acceptable, so if their mandolins are comparable, it'd be a good learner instrument. I'll try and find one in a shop though so I can try it out, as I'd really need to see it first. The idea of borrowing one for a few weeks is good, I just need to find a willing lender. I'll probably be using the mandolin for two different styles of music - Irish trad and oldtime American Folk (1920s style).

30 Jul 07 - 11:44 AM (#2114787)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: wilco

For your styles of music, take a look at a Kentucky 170. It's an oval hole A model, made of all solid wood. Set-up on Kentuckys are ususlaly non-existant, so plan on spending some time "getting it right." Should run $350 to $400 US.

Wilco 48
Tennessee USA

Howver, the best buy is the 500 series Eastman.

30 Jul 07 - 11:56 AM (#2114802)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: Richard Bridge

If that Kentucky is distributed by Saga, run a mile.

30 Jul 07 - 12:10 PM (#2114817)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin

Thinking of buying a mondolin? - do you want a medal?

I was thinking of dried desert sands does that mean I'm thirsty?

30 Jul 07 - 03:20 PM (#2114949)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: GUEST,bobcat

For good mandolin advice, get in touch with Ian Steel of LGMA (Lanarkshire mandolin and guitar assoc) >They have a website...Lgma or google scottish mandolin and you'll get there. Ian has written two articles in their newsletter which you can down load on the very subject.....full of advice and what not to get!!!!!He looks at beginners, middle range and big bucks!!

30 Jul 07 - 03:32 PM (#2114955)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: Richard Bridge

One "Scottish Mandolin" site

30 Jul 07 - 03:39 PM (#2114959)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: Richard Bridge

LGMA (Guitar and Mandolin in that order) website

30 Jul 07 - 07:04 PM (#2115087)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: Nickhere

I was trying out a Gibson Epiphone mandolin (A type apparently) in a shop today. it sounds ok, but I'm no expert. It was going (new) for 299 euros. anyone got any comments on / experince of this particular model?

31 Jul 07 - 12:08 AM (#2115239)
Subject: RE: Thinking of buying a mandolin
From: Songster Bob

Good one to look for is a Mid-Missouri Mandolin Co. one. The company, alas, went out of business, but their instruments show up on eBay regularly. $300-400, depending on materials. They are "A" models with totally flat tops, not carved, sort of like the Flatiron models (another defunct company -- Gibson liked those enough they bought the company and doubled the price). They're loud and clean, with good action and lots of frets available (most A models have restricted access above about fret 7). All solid woods (probably why they went belly-up) and a good bargain in my opinion.

Other good makes you can find include Epiphone and some of the ones mentioned above. The best thing is to play as many as you can (find friends with mandos and ask them for advice). Buying used is a good way to avoid paying too much. Don't go looking for collectors' items, though, 'cause some of those older ones can be in pretty rough shape, if they're old enough.