Which mandolin to buy?

Which mandolin to buy?

Hi, I would like learn to play Irish trad on the mandolin. Does anyone have a suggestion on which mandolin to buy? (it has to have good enough sound so you can bring it to a session)

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

That depends on how much you are prepared to spend.
It may depend on where you live.
It may even depend on what sort of tone you think you are looking for.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

I love this question! My advice is to check out the Weber line. Their least expensive instruments are ones you won’t want to trade up when it’s time for another instrument, and it won’t break the bank, either. Avoid the laminate beginner models. You might like one but it will have very little resale value and the difference in tone and setup for an additional two to three hundred dollars invested in a "real" mandolin is worth every nickel.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

I meant to say I would avoid the laminate beginner models from other companies like Epiphone, Fender, etc. not from Weber… I’m not sure if they even make that kind of stuff.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

They’re not on the low end of the price scale, but I really like a lot of Herb Taylor’s mandolins.

Even if you have a mandolin with a good voice, it can be difficult to play in a session if it’s at all noisy, because you often can’t hear yourself, even if other people can hear you just fine.

But Herb puts a little sound port on the side of his instruments, which really helps with that problem!

http://www.herbtaylor.com/instruments/mandolin/

But I would strongly suggest that you try to play any mandolin before you buy it. And ideally, you should play it side by side with other instruments, to take away some of the subjectiveness of the sound.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

Umm… much will depend on how much you think is reasonable to spend on a first instrument.

I’d advise you to do a serious and searching examination of your wallet. Imagine yourself pulling out hundred dollar bills (or your local equivalent) and laying them on a music shop counter. Stop when you feel anxious. Let us know how far you get.

It might also help to know where you’re located - there’s probably someone near you who knows where to go for such things.


As for being heard in a session - don’t count on it. It might happen, but for the most part you’re going to have a hard enough time hearing yourself at any but the smallest sessions. Others will get bits and pieces of what you do. If that’s okay with you, proceed. If that bothers you, consider veering off to the tenor banjo.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

Nonononononononono……..
Don’t get a tenor banjo - spawn of the devil……( not that I’m prejudiced ).
If you really want a loud mando, get one of the resonator models for sessions.
As for practising and quieter sessions, try everything you can within your price range. I’m not personally a fan of the bluegrass/C&W instruments with the F-holes and adjustable bridges, but obviously some people like them. If I had ANY disposable cash at the minute old Martin flatbacks turn up on ebay every week or two - that would do me just fine.
Really, just know your price limit, try everything you can, and talk to everyone you can. At the end of the day it’s your value judgement, whether it rings YOUR bells.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

like gravelwalks said, an epiphone is a good choice

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

Yark! I didn’t say that! Those things are good for firewood, maybe, or paddles but not as instruments.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

If you’re in the UK one of these is great for Irish sessions: http://www.hobgoblin.co.uk/local/FY3162-p-Fylde-Touchstone-Mandolin-page.htm
A friend has one and it sings out loud and clear. I was going to get one but the flat top I bought in the end was a Hathway, and that’s good too (the larger-bodied Hathway).

# Posted on February 7th 2010 by RichardB


This one is TOP CLASS, do you if you end up playing with U2.

For a session, you can get lovely tone and volume for around £150.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

The Epiphone MM30 is priced as an entry level mandolin. It has a solid spruce top, not laminate. I’m happy with mine and it gets good reviews.
The MM20 might be laminate; their website describes it as "select spruce" top whereas they say "solid spruce" for the MM30.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

I agree, All Moldy; that terminology clearly suggests to me that the MM20 is laminate.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

mandolino, any chance of a response regarding your budget and other requirements so we can give you an appropriate answer?

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

Mandolino

You can come round my house and try my Fylde Touchstone if you like.

Several acquaintances of mine with other kinds would also be happy to let you have a go on theirs.

D

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

I have an inexpensive Fender that I started out with. It’s okay. I wasn’t really concerned with resale and will eventually upgrade if I don’t end up picking up a banjo or fiddle instead.

One out of many rules of thumb you are likely to run into. Archtop models usually are louder than flattop models. Don’t ask me why, I’m not a luthier, but it’s something about the design. However, alot of flattops have a sweeter tone. If I upgrade I’m going to stick with an archtop because I need as much volume as I can get to compete with pipes, boxes, and banjos. I don’t play bluegrass, but in the bluegrass world, archtops reign supreme, because they HAVE to compete with banjos all the time, but in ITM it’s hit or miss. Box players have volume, but it’s a reed intrument and the attack of the mando will still cut through, but when banjos are present, expect your mando to get buried.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

oops sorry gravelwalks i can’t read!
i do have an epiphone though with a pick up and i love it. then again i havn’t tried much else so i probably can’t comment.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

Thanks for all your answers :) I live in Ireland and my maximum budget is maybe 400 to 500 euro (but cheaper if it is possible to get an ok one for less, or slightly more if it is worth it)

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

200 euro will get you a good electric Ozark.

Nice enough when not plugged in,, but not too loud I admit.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

If there’s any way you can stretch your budget a little further I’d suggest avoiding most Ozark or Ashbury mandolins. The exceptions are the newer Ashburys designed by Phil Davidson.
http://www.hobgoblin.com/local/GR3117-p-Ashbury-Deluxe-Mandolin-Page.htm
and
http://www.hobgoblin.com/local/GR3116-p-Ashbury-Standard-Mandolin-Page.htm
Also in that price range is the Kentucky KM-505
http://www.hobgoblin.com/local/GR3137-p-Kentucky-KM505-Vintage-Burst-Page.htm
That model and the more expensive KM-1000 are the best in the Kentucky range. Genuine handcarved tops and solid woods. Excellent mandolins for the money.
An Eastman 504 would also be good (check out theacousticmusicco.co.uk), but a bit beyond your budget unless you can save a bit more.

IMHO, most low end mandolins are false economy. Believe me, I’ve owned and tried many of them. Few would be heard in any but the smallest session.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

buddhuu’s advice seems sound enough to me.

You get what you pay for. A bit of a generalisation, but broadly true.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

400-500 Euro should get you something like a nice mandolin, if you stick to flat tops. Carved tops will generally cost more - there are some that I see which are more "curved tops", they seem to be laminates molded into a rounded shape. These are useless. Kentucky’s cheaper models are often of this sort. Good for learning fingerings, but the best thing to do with them is to install a pickup, shoot in some spray foam to stop the feedback, and play them in a pogues-type tradpunk group.

A quick search turns up Mid-Missouri instruments in the $400-$500 range - one new at Shark in the Morning for $575. I’ve always found those to be good solid instruments, as flat-tops go. Those are in the states, so you’d have shipping to deal with. Your local prices may be higher since your money is worth something, unlike the dollar.
If I’m not mistaken, Big Muddy is the successor company to Mid-Missouri. In any case, their instruments are similar to Mid-MO, and the ones I’ve played have been quite good. They’re priced well within your range.

These won’t be the loudest instruments in the world, but bear in mind that even with the best mandolin in the world, you won’t be heard in any but the quietest sessions. Let’s say in any session with a box, a tenor banjo, more than two fiddles, or more than four other players, you’re going to be playing to a very restricted audience. It’s like playing the lute at a bagpipe competition - no matter what you do, they’ve got you outgunned. This frees you from trying to buy volume - buy sound and playability instead.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

Jon K, the OP is in Ireland, so if you add shipping and duty to the price of a Mid-Mo/Big Muddy, then they’d likely end up paying well over the odds for it.

Mandolino - I’d say take a look at the Kentucky KM505 at Hobgoblin that someone posted a link to. I’ve played quite a few of them and think that they’re really nice mandolins for the money - all solid woods and a radius fretboard. They get good reviews from folks over at the Mandolin Cafe site (which is a great resource for mandolin players, you should check it out). You might also want to consider the Kentucky KM172, which has an oval soundhole (vs. the KM505’s f-holes) and usually runs a bit cheaper pricewise than the KM505. It too is all solid woods and would be a more than decent instrument to be starting out on. Hobgoblin might stock them as well, worth checking out.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

Yeh, shame about the shipping and duty on Mid Mo/Big Muddy mandos. Their reputation is rock solid and the ones I’ve seen on Youtube are excellent. There’s a fella plays trad on an M1, but I can’t remember his Youtube nick… If they were readily available in the UK I’d have snapped one up long ago.

Some people avoid f-hole mandos for folk music and trad dance tunes, but I find they actually project and cut really well in louder environments. Ovals have a mellower tone for gentle ballads. I currently play a Kentucky KM-505. It gets heard much more than the Eastman 504 I had a while ago, although the Eastman was also a very nice mandolin at a reasonable price.

Don’t overlook those Davidson designed Ashburys. I’m after one myself. Sam Wise reviewed them for Acoustic Magazine and reckoned they were good. I’ve tried the Deluxe model in a Hobgoblin store and I think it’s an absolute bargain.

Prices of entry level decent mandos have gone up a fair bit in the last couple of years. You used to be able to get a Jimmy Moon mandolin for £400 or so, but not any more.

There’s always Dave Freshwater. Handmade mandolins starting under £400, but some models involve a bit of a wait. Also it might be worth checking out old Mandolincafe threads to get a balanced view of people’s experiences with Mr F. It also seems that his instruments, though nice, are not the loudest.

When I do finally get the wad together for that Ashbury Deluxe I’ll post a brief review on this board.

One last note: if you do go for an archtop A style, you might also consider investing in a Tonegard. They clip to the back of the mandolin and keep the back of the instrument from pressing against your body (which dampens the sound). I bought one last year and it certainly helps get the most volume and tone out of my KM-505. Had to order from the US, but the maker is a stand-up fella. Good to deal with.

No financial interest in any of the products I mention.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

I don’t think I could buy an instrument without playing it first. Ideally, you could try out a few different shapes and sizes in your price range in a music store, and see if you fall in love with one. It helps to have a friend’s ears along to see how it projects. If it’s a real wooden instrument, it will only get better the more you play it. Have fun, and good luck!

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

You get what you pay for. A bit of a generalisation, but broadly true.

# Posted on February 9th 2010 by DaveL35



This is true, and no-one can deny it.

But what is the mandolin for? A hobby, to play at sessions in a noisy pub? So how much quality do you need.

If your hobby is snooker is the local hall do you buy the £400 top of the range cue?

Or is that only if you are making money out of it?

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

If you’re in a noisy session, the tonal quality doesn’t matter too much, though volume comes in handy. But, admittedly, there is not a mandolin on the planet that will give you enough volume for the worst of those occasions.

OTOH, on those occasions when you can make yourself heard, I think you owe it to yourself and others (particularly the other musicians who have probably invested a lot of time, effort and possibly cash to be able to make their music and share it with you) to produce as pleasant a sound as you can.

I play fairly good mandolins because it improves the quality of the experience - always for me, and sometimes for others. I rarely make a penny out of it.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

Mandolins have reached an advanced state of development - when you pay the price. A luthier-built carved-top mandolin will have had its sound board, back and bracing thinned by hand and tap-tuned using a strobe tuner. Here’s a good read: http://www.dearstone.com/profile.htm - a mandolin luthier talking about the processes involved (don’t think I can afford one of his instruments). That’s what you’re paying for, and why something off a production line will have its limitations. I absolutely love mandolins, but tend to take a tenor banjo down the pub instead. No matter how good the mandolin, it perhaps isn’t the best instrument for Irish sessions. It has been developed around bluegrass, and the old players stand around a single mic and move forward to play breaks, then move back to accompany with chops. This doesn’t work when everyone’s facing inwards round a table in a pub with background noise, and you won’t get any thanks for playing off-beat chops to Irish music.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

DaveL35, I am not actually arguing with you.

what never ceases to amaze me on here is someone will ask "what guitar should i buy for a session" and people will suggest top of the range Lowden, Avalon, Taylor or whatever.

Yes, you will get a better sound but would a yamaha 310 for £90 not do the trick? It will sound ok for the average session.

Now if you are investing for life in a labour of love and feel like getting the best, and I realise credit cards now make this feasible, well ok, get the best.

But a cheaper model will suffice, even with a mandolin.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

Great points all. Don’t buy new— rather, spend as much money as you can on a high-end used instrument.

The sound will have settled, so you know how the thing will sound in five years’ time. A well-cared-for high end used instrument will run you 40% less than a new one, and will, if you take care of it (BUY AN ARCHTOP SOLID CASE and PUT THE MANDO ON YOUR HOUSHOLD INSURANCE!), maintain that value.

If it’s sessions you play at, get an archtop F— you want volume. Resonators are louder, yes, but you want to play the mandolin, rather than a cross between the Devil and a banjo. Invest in a pro setup and decent bridge and nut, which can utterly transform the sound.

Dunno where you live, but here in North America, used instruments, because of the Depression, are becoming cheaper by the day. Whatever you do, try loads of isntruments out— two fo the same model can sound quite different— and don’t write off eBay. My mando came at 40% off list, was in mint shape, and I avoided taxes.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

It’s much easier yo get an acceptable sounding $200 guitar than an equivilant mandolin.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

>> I am not actually arguing with you.

Ridiculous.

Of course you are.

You don’t think it’s important to get a good instrument for session playing. I do.

But nobody ever changes their mind on the Internet, so we must agree to differ.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

I’m always amazed that, apart from Red Henry and his friends, every one of these top-range, tap-tuned, carved soundboard mandos has a two-piece ebony bridge kept together by two big brass screws.
Why?
You wouldn’t put such a thing on a violin, where much of the other constructional details of these mandos were taken from.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

>> I am not actually arguing with you.

Ridiculous.

Of course you are.

You don’t think it’s important to get a good instrument for session playing. I do.

But nobody ever changes their mind on the Internet, so we must agree to differ.

# Posted on February 12th 2010 by DaveL35



All you had to say was you were a musical snob, simple as that.

I often wonder how Willie Clancy managed.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

Pete— they use screw-bridges to be able to adjust the action (distance between strings and fretboard).

Unlike a violin, on the mando, you can adjust neck tension, and there is an enormous variety of string sizes. Due to the significant differences in thickness between the low and high strings, and the closeness of the action, some mandos are set up with the bridge "tilted"— the end where the high strings are is lower than on the thick strings.

Mandos are also strung and set up depending on context: an ITM player rarely goes above the 7th fret, and wants max volume for sessions, so will often go for thick strings, while a bluegrass player needs to be fluid all the way up the neck, and so uses lighter strings. And if you are performing or recording, you choose strings (and set-up) based on the mic, sounds you want, etc.


chris


I’m always amazed that, apart from Red Henry and his friends, every one of these top-range, tap-tuned, carved soundboard mandos has a two-piece ebony bridge kept together by two big brass screws.
Why?
You wouldn’t put such a thing on a violin, where much of the other constructional details of these mandos were taken from

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

I’ve listened to a clip of a Big Muddy m4 mandolin and it sounds nice, $595 (incl post to Ireland from Gryphon). Unable to find an audio clip of a Freshwater Standard Mandolin.

Re: Which mandolin to buy?

I eventually purchased an M-4 including hardshell? case from Mike Dulak, total cost $700. I was never a great fan of the mandolin but the Big Muddy M-4 seduced me.

Mike Dulak is an excellent guy to deal with, see interview via link beneath.

http://www.mandolinsessions.com/?p=721&cpage=1#comment-2704