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Mandolin recommendations?

Discussion in 'Acoustic Heaven' started by bendingtens, May 23, 2007.

  1. bendingtens

    bendingtens Tele-Meister

    Jan 30, 2007
    Los Angeles
    I'm shopping for my first mandolin. Want to spend up to 500 bucks. Less is better. Any recommendations? I went to Guitar Center today and tried out a Epiphone for that price. Mail order is fine, too..

  2. Kingpin

    Kingpin Friend of Leo's

    Mar 16, 2003
    Folk of the Wood has an online store with a pretty big selection. I bought a Kentucky KM-630 through them several years ago and it is a nice quality instrument (it's slightly above $500 nowdays).

    Here's a link to their main mandolin page:

    The "A" style mandolins will generally be less expensive than the "F" style.

  3. ednew

    ednew Tele-Holic

    Jun 25, 2003
    Whidbey Island, WA

  4. getbent

    getbent Telefied Ad Free Member

  5. Tim Bowen

    Tim Bowen Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 17, 2003
    Atlanta/Rome, Georgia, US
    Much will depend on your needs. Is this to be an instrument strictly for learning and fun at the shack, or are you a working player that seeks to employ the instrument at jobs after you get a handle on it?

    As Ed mentioned, If you go to, you'll find a wide array of players, from the hobbyist to the ultra-serious professional. The latter is known to spend thousands on a quality instrument, and good on 'em if they've got coin to deal.

    If you're someone that will eventually be playing mandolin in live settings, it's crucial to know what those settings will be. Hardcore bluegrass players will choose an instrument based strictly upon its acoustic qualities, and they'll mic' it. The really old school bluegrass cats will basically stand around a single mic', and step away from it to lower their dynamics, and step up to it when it's their turn for a ride, as will the other musicians.

    The other side of the coin is a guy like myself. I'm not a hardcore bluegrasser, and mic'ing is strictly a non-option for my situations (as is spending thousands of bucks on a premium quality instrument), not to mention the fact that I've not been playing that long. That said, I've been gigging mandolin pretty much weekly for about the past year. I'd say it currently occupies about 20% of my instrumental duties, but that number seems to be quickly climbing. Depending on the logistics of my situations, I either route a mandolin through my guitar rig, or DI it to the house system (preferred). I currently play mandolin with two acoustic projects, as well as a pop rock band and a country rock/Americana band.

    With the above as preface - I started on an inexpensive Fender acoustic-electric mandolin, which is a solid instrument with pretty decent inherent action and intonation (plenty good enough for dinking around on at the shack). However, after I began regularly gigging mandolin, I found the timbre of the electronics to be lacking on the Fender. I then had an opportunity to purchase an Ovation MM68, which has become my working instrument. The electronics really translate beautifully, particularly as DI'ed. I haven't researched blue book values and such, but I traded a backup Stratocaster for mine, typical resale value of which would fall between $500-600. I've noticed a few acts employing the Ovation mando live here lately - Sugarland for one, and I recently split a bill with an act called Locash Cowboys, and their violinist/mandolinist called on the Ovation as well.

  6. RomanS

    RomanS Poster Extraordinaire

    Jun 21, 2006
    Vienna, Austria
    Well, I don't know nothing about mandolins, but the singer in my band does (he has been playing mandolin for like 20 years), and he's quite happy with his Fender acoustic-electric mando.

  7. blue metalflake

    blue metalflake Doctor of Teleocity

    Jan 29, 2005
    My brother in law inherited an Antoria mandolin (non electric) Know nothing about them but it sounds great.

  8. Califiddler

    Califiddler Friend of Leo's

    Jan 21, 2005

  9. Bob Mc

    Bob Mc Friend of Leo's

    Mar 17, 2003
    Mo'town NJ
    It' s a long story, but the $500 range is very uneven in MHO.
    After dozens of models and styles, I have recently settled on an Eastman oval hole (514). I had a horribly cheap PACRIM Harmony that sounded great and a $800 Breedlove (two actually) that sounded so so.
    I learned that to me, F hole mandolins didn't sound as good as oval holes (YMMV), and that I wanted radiused fretboard.
    Dennis at has great service and inventory for used stuff.

  10. Steelpicki'n

    Steelpicki'n Tele-Meister

    Sep 24, 2005
    Ft. Edward,NY
    Recently bought one of these...I know they are not in the price range you mentioned but consider: nothing wrong with buying used...and, if your gigging with one now and get just a little more serious about playing will wish you had a better inst than 500.00 can buy in a short while and be looking to upgrade to something else .
    In the long run you may end up spending more. Also in your price range consider looking into Eastman, and Morgan Monroe mandolins. Both pretty good bang for the buck. Remember also that resale on the "Pacific Rim" instruments is a lot less than most would have you believe...good luck.:)
    Last edited: May 23, 2007

  11. bendingtens

    bendingtens Tele-Meister

    Jan 30, 2007
    Los Angeles
    I'm definitely not going to be playing professionally with the mandolin. Just want something to futz around with. The F hole models look the coolest, but I just want something that sounds good.

  12. studio1087

    studio1087 Telefied Ad Free Member

    May 10, 2003
    Near Milwaukee

  13. Califiddler

    Califiddler Friend of Leo's

    Jan 21, 2005
    That being the case, and given your price range, I would go for an A model and look at the brands made in Asia. And look for something used, you'll save money that way, too.

  14. goldtopper

    goldtopper Friend of Leo's

    Dec 30, 2005
    Liberal Lakes
    At that price point, you'll get a better A than an F; that little curl brings the price up considerably.
    Oval Holes- very warm and toneful, but most lack the Chop for bluegrass rhythym keeping. I have a King Brown oval thats an F shape and has an extended neck like an F5 rather than a short neck like an F4. Excellent mandolin.
    F models/holes- a good one kills banjos and cuts through to bring the mando to the forefront. We use the single mike set up and come forward for solos. F models provide that loud woof of a chop and the leads will also be loud providing the mando has a good top and bracing.
    I play a Summit F and it's a wonderful mando.

    Like guitars, you'll get what you pay for and a cheap instrument will fight you every step of the way. A decent solid wood starter mando is a Mid Missouri. They aren't beautiful, in fact they're very plain,; they are solid wood though, no veneers and sound nice. They only make oval holes.

  15. zombywoof

    zombywoof Friend of Leo's

    I played an Michael Kelly Legacy (an F style mandolin ) a few weeks back which was right at your price and was pretty impressed. For a few hundred more there is the Legacy Deluxe.


    ROADMAN Poster Extraordinaire

    +1 on the Michael Kelly F style legacy ..I bought one new last year ..
    beautiful instrument wonderful tone ..

  17. scooteraz

    scooteraz Tele-Afflicted

    Apr 17, 2007
    Peoria, AZ
    Yes, at that price point your are looking at the Ketucky, Michael Kelly, Bean Blossom, Goldtone and lower end Eastman. A little more (ok going to ~750)gets you somewhat higher into the Eastman line (which are amazingly nice instruments). The Tacomas and low end Breedlove, starter Weber and Collings (all very nice in their own way) are in the $1000-1500 range, and things go up (rapidly) from there.

    I kept checking out mandos and listiening until I talked my self into a Weber. Really nice mando, and I have gotten to where I can and do play it out a bit. But, the price was somewhat out of your stated range.

    My advice, in addition to Folk of the Wood, talk to the folks at Elderly instruments and at Janet Davis Music or at the Mandolin store The other is Gryphon has instruments other than the $175K Loar, and are quite helpful. One other would be mandolin brothers

    All of the above helped me in my mandolin and banjo searches and were very personable. Just tell them your price range, and most of them will have something in stock, new or used.

    Have fun. If like me you play guitar badly, it is always fun to annoy friends and family on an entire new instrument.:lol:

  18. Rob DiStefano

    Rob DiStefano Poster Extraordinaire Vendor Member

    Mar 3, 2003
    NJ via TX
    Some months back I was scouting around for a decent all solid wood mando and lucked into a Fullerton Gloucester f style that I picked up to $200 delivered from M123 - no longer offered, unfortunately. Really nice ringing tone, maple body and spruce top, and I love the sparse woody look, well worth the dollars if you can find one for sale ...


  19. bendingtens

    bendingtens Tele-Meister

    Jan 30, 2007
    Los Angeles
    Update on my mando search:

    I went to 48th street here in New York to browse. Manny's had two fenders. Around $250 bucks. One pair of strings fretted out at the second fret. Very disappointing.

    Rudy's had some great ones.. but the cheapest was $1700.

    Sam Ash had two as well. They also fretted out.

    Don't music stores set up before they put stuff on the shelves?

  20. Guy-Paul

    Guy-Paul TDPRI Member

    Apr 23, 2007
    I have a F style Goldtone ( GM 70, I believe) and I love it when I play acoustic. I had a Schallen pick-up installed, but I'm not so crazy about it because the hum canceling is from contact with the strings (what when you play open strings fingerpicking). Not really satisfying. But acoustic playing anytime.
    But I also have a Godin A8. Chambered body like a semi-acoustic guitar. A little marvel for electric playing. Nice sound, no feedback, you can even play with a distortion,compressor, whatever (have you ever try the whole Copperhead road including the solo with a tube screamer?) And some Godin's instruments are even made in the NE states somewhere, I believe, but surely available in US.

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