Low cost Mandolin suggestions?

Discussion in 'Acoustic Instruments' started by Guitar55, May 21, 2015.

  1. Guitar55

    Guitar55 Who was that masked man? Silver Supporting Member

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    I'm looking for an F-Style Mandolin with decent acoustic tone and decent electronics for under $900.

    The Michael Kelly looks nice. Also wondering about Epiphone, Ibanez, Washburn, Loar any others?
     
  2. Guitar55

    Guitar55 Who was that masked man? Silver Supporting Member

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    No mando players here?
     
  3. EricPeterson

    EricPeterson Member

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    I kind of liked the Gretsch Park Avenue when I tried it, it is around 600 or less, but I tend to like oval hole ones. It is a pressed top though, which some may not like, but I thought it sounded better than the Kentucky and Micheal Kelly's hanging next to it.
     
  4. phil_m

    phil_m Supporting Member

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    I have The Loar LM-500-VS. It was about half that. I do have an inexpensive pickup in it that sounds fine to me. I'm not an accomplished mandolin player by any means... I just wanted something I could learn on that would sound good, be playable and stay in tune. The Loar does all those well from my perspective.
     
  5. plawren53202

    plawren53202 Supporting Member

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    I have been playing mandolin for a few years, and frequent a number of mandolin message boards. I will give you the condensed version of the most common advice collected from all of those sources, which advice has guided me quite well through a number of mandolin purchases.

    You say that you want an "F style." I assume you mean by that one with an f-style shaped body, as opposed to one with f-holes, which can come in F- and A-style bodies. If you are dead set on an f-style body, then go for it, and many are smitten with the "power of the scroll." However, the common advice is that you will get quite a bit more for your money if you are willing to do an a-style body with f-holes. The extra work required to produce the scrolls adds quite a bit (probably 40%) on to the price of f-styles.

    Also, you did not say if you are looking for new or used. I highly recommend used. Mandolin players in general tend to be a little gentler on their instruments than guitar players, so you can benefit quite a bit from buying used. Look on ebay but also look at the classifieds on those sites dedicated to mandolin.

    Most of the brands you mention (Michael Kelly, Epiphone, Ibanez, Washburn) are just "meh" in the mandolin world. In general, the primary consideration in sound quality is the top. The most basic requirement is real/"solid" wood. Next is how the top is shaped. Going from lesser to greater, the range starts with pressed (top is heat pressed into shape) to carved, to hand carved. Hand carved, graduated top, back and sides will give you the best quality sound.

    You mention electronics. If you limit yourself to only those mandolins that are sold with pre-installed electronics, you are going to substantially limit yourself in quality. In mandolin world, and especially bluegrass, many mandolin players prefer the sound of micing a mandolin rather than internal pickups. Thus, most of the better mandolins tend to not come with pre-installed electronics. That does not mean, however, that you don’t have any options. For example, I just started using a K&K external pickup system and a Behringer acoustic instrument preamp/eq pedal. The two together cost under $100, took about 15 minutes to install and start using (and I have no luthiery skills, so it had to be easy), and they sound extremely good. I would suggest that you not limit your search to those mandolins with pre-installed electronics, and consider aftermarket options for a pickup system.

    So, on to recommendations on brands and models. The most commonly recommended brands, in general, that are within beginner price range (and your price range) but have good build construction, good sound, solid, hand carved tops, etc. are Kentucky, Loar and Eastman. Don’t rely just on price alone as a gauge. For instance, the new (within the last year) Kentucky KM-150s are drawing rave reviews (these are different from KM-150s manufactured a year ago or before) even though they are basically Kentucky’s entry model. I have owned a Kentucky KM-150 (older model) and the Loar LM 520. Both were excellent mandolins within that price range, though the Loar was a step up in playability and tone quality. The LM-500-VS that phil-m mentioned is another good one. Basically, anything by any of these three companies that you can find in your price range will be an excellent mandolin. Though I have not owned one, I have also played Eastmans all through their range (300, 500 and 800 series), and they are excellent as well.

    My highest recommendation for your price range goes to the J Bovier line. This is a lesser known company and may be a little harder to find. I had heard stellar reviews on them for some time, and about a year ago upgraded from my Loar to a J Bovier A-style (f-holes). I could not be happier with it. The tone is deeper, woodier and more complex than the Loar I owned previously, and the build and construction are impeccable. J Bovier is now my first recommendation to anyone in the $1000 and under price range.

    I hope this all helps.
     
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  6. Mark Paterson

    Mark Paterson Member

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    I've had The Loar LM-600-VS since they were introduced (2009-10?) and it's a GREAT mandolin. In fact, I sold my Weber Gallatin after I spent some time with the LM600. I've played/owned the usual suspects( Epi,Alvarez,Ibanez,MK,ect) and you are paying for "all show,no go". Even the "cheapest" The Loar A syle will sound MUCH better than any of the "F" shaped brand name mando's hanging at your local GC or wherever.

    You can get a LOT of mandolin these days if you look at THE Loar, Eastman and Kentucky. Buy an aftermarket K&K Pickup system and install it yourself..you'll be a happy camper. Good luck!!
     
  7. teefus

    teefus Silver Supporting Member

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    i bought a used tacoma (usa) mandolin for my son a year ago. got it from guitar center in dallas iirc. $400 shipped with a hardshell case. it had a pickup installed from the factory and is a fantastic sounding and playing instrument. it is more of a modified "a" style though. much better than the imported mandolins i played and less than half the price. look around if you don't mind used. also check out the mandolin cafe. they have a for sale section and those guys really know their stuff.
     
  8. Tim Pourciau

    Tim Pourciau Member

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    I have an Eastman 815V that i got used for under $1000. Fantastic mandolin
     
  9. bayAreaDude

    bayAreaDude Member

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    Just can't recommend an f-style in the budget category - you pay so much for that scroll which does nothing for tone.
     
  10. Guitar55

    Guitar55 Who was that masked man? Silver Supporting Member

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    Thanks for the detailed response. I have to try to free myself from my scroll obsession. :)
     
  11. Guitar55

    Guitar55 Who was that masked man? Silver Supporting Member

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    Also, I had forgot to mention Eastman in my OP. I was at Merlefest and had the opportunity to get a pretty big discount on one, but wasn't ready to buy at that time.
     
  12. zombywoof

    zombywoof Member

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    Can't help you with F-style but for an A style on a budget you can't beat a Strad-O-Lin. Kind of a mystery instrument as nobody knows for sure who made them but story is they were so good that even Bill Monroe kept one around. I own one which is date stamped in 1940. So good I sold my 1917 Gibson and have never looked back.
     
  13. terrapin

    terrapin Member

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    I just ended a long search for the best under $1000 mandolin. Hands Down the opinion of luthiers and players was that the Eastman stuff cannot be beat at this price range. My luthier/tech guy is a mando player, and now uses a Collings, but when he played the Eastman MD305 I got for $400, he was blown away by the build the sound and the playability. Folks over at the Mandolin Cafe Forum swear by the lower priced Eastmans. I can tell you one thing for sure.....do not buy a Michael Kelly! The sound like plywood junk compared to the Eastmans or Loars.
     
  14. choucas09

    choucas09 Member

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    More on the Eastman MD350.....A friend of mine asked me to find him a mandolin. I got an ex-demo Md350 for very cheap off Ebay. When I took it out of it's very nice case I knew I'd have to keep it even though I don't play mandolin. It's fairly unadorned, but the build quality is excellent and the sound is wonderful. Highly recommended. Btw I found my friend something else.


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  15. jcground

    jcground Member

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    I've seen a lot of entry level mandolin threads here over the years, and the response from plawren53202 above is one of the best I've seen.

    I'll add that I have a Breedlove Quartz A-shape mandolin with f holes that has been great for me. It was about $800. I've since swapped in a nickel Allen tailpiece (Monteleone style - makes restringing a breeze) and added a strap button on the bottom of the neck heel. Great sounding, USA made, all wood (maple body and neck, ebony board, spruce top). Satin finish that never gets gunky. It has nice chop. Compares very favorably to a Weber that belongs to a friend, but cost much less than the Weber.

    The only potential minus is the more modern look. I dig it, but it is not the mandolin for a bluegrass purist.
     
  16. Petimar

    Petimar Member

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    I second the Stradolin if you get a solid topped one. Great inexpensive instruments!
     
  17. terrapin

    terrapin Member

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    The Eastman's are ALL solid wood with bone nuts and ebony bridges......just sayin'
     
  18. Jean Hall

    Jean Hall Member

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    If you get low cost or budget mandolin then go for Ibanez M522S F-Style Mandolin. It is Excellent and you get it under $300. It has a truss rod. 8-stringed. It has Durable and of high-quality material.
     
  19. Mc-K

    Mc-K Gold Supporting Member

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    I know it’s not close by, but Kyle Dunn at The Mando Shop is in Tallahassee. He carries Eastman, J. Bouvier, his own branded models called TKD, Collings, Northfield, etc. He goes through and sets each one up. This was you’d be able to try a few mandolins out in person before making a decision. The TKD mandolins are made overseas to his specs. They get pretty good reviews too.
    https://themandoshop.com/
     
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  20. AA864

    AA864 Supporting Member

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    I keep looking for a mando on a budget to learn on. I couldn’t get past the scroll F design and wanted one with a pickup. I ended up just gettting a new Eastman 615 scroll F with a pickup for about $1200. I didn’t want to waste time recycling something cheap when I knew this is what I wanted. I made the right choice.

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