Cheap Mandolin advice

Cheap Mandolin advice

I already own a decent mandolin but work away a lot in pretty rough and ready circumstances around the world, flying on a lot of budget airlines and bouncing around the southern hemisphere on buses and overcrowded taxis. I want to get a cheap mandolin to combat ‘cheap hotel boredom’ in the evenings in places where there is no internet and not enough light to read by. It needs to be decent enough to play (just) but cheap enough for me not really to give a toss if it came off the luggage belt at arrivals in multiples pieces. I see a firm called Gearformusic are punting out ‘Vintage Sunbursts’ for £50. Has anyone tried one of these things, know anything of Gearformusic, or have any other options in the ‘so cheap I couldn’t care less if it fell off the roof of the bus’ line of mandolins?

Thanks!

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

My suggestion would be to get a soprano ukulele and get Aquila’s strings for tuning it in fifths, GDAE like a mandolin.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Aquila-30U-Soprano-Ukulele-Strings/dp/B005WFTJPK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1546884712&sr=8-1&keywords=fifths+strings+ukulele

You can also get strings to tune a concert size ukulele in fifths like a viola or a mandola (CGDA)
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Aquila-31U-Concert-Ukulele-Strings/dp/B005WFTKGS/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=musical-instruments&ie=UTF8&qid=1546885016&sr=1-1-fkmr0&keywords=fifths+strings+CGDA

I use this all the time, and I’ve reached the point where I find it more enjoyable playing the "fifth uke" than the mandolin. You can get a decent-sounding uke for a very good price.
Naturally, a uke also has the advantage of being smaller than a mandolin.

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

Can’t comment on cheap mandos, but I’ve bought plenty of stuff from Gear4music over the years. They are a big online store with the main warehouse, which you can by from direct and have limited browsing, in York. They sell stuff right across the price range with most gear at the cheaper end in stock. Some of the pricier gear you may have to wait a bit for. Because of the heavy discounting delivery is usually extra except for bigger orders. It might be worth paying for next day delivery as last time I decided to go standard delivery, for a Focusrite Scarlet 2i2, it got lost in the post (but a replacement was sent out without quibble).

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

I’ve found some decent used Russian/Polish mandolins for €20-40 from thrift stores and web auctions.

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

No.
I want to forget the rubbish instruments I’ve squandered money, time and tears on. Just find a well set-up 2nd hand trade in that’s playable.

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

Ive been doing as Siúlóir suggests and am very happy indeed with the set up, great for traveling. Apart from that ive had some reasonable mandolin yokes for abour 70 but they will need to be set up right after that….. as long as its loud and solid top and can be set up well ….
I ve been useing a clearwater soprano uke and they have been great for me .

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

I used to have a cheap electric mandolin that I used for this purpose - I didn’t plug it in, so it was quiet, allowing me to play into the wee hours and not disturb anyone else at the B&B/hotel I was at. Also because it was a solid body instrument I didn’t have many worries about it getting crushed in the overhead of planes etc. Dead handy it was!

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

I don’t know what you mean by "cheap" mandolins but you can find many perfectly good "servicable" instruments for around £100-£150.

Better to spend just a little more for something which is acceptable. After all, top of the range mandolins will cost circa 2-3K!

Ozark, I think, are not too bad but there are others. Best advice is to go to your local music shop and try out a few instruments.
Basically, all I’m saying that there is no need to buy complete rubbish when there are relatively cheap options out there.

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

My travel mando is a Rogue, bought used on eBay. The previous owner had installed a pickup and done a bit of set-up, and it plays wonderfully. I’ve heard mixed reviews on Rogue mandolins bought new, but mine is proof positive that they can be tweaked into being great instruments. When I’m not traveling, it sits on the couch next to a ukulele for easy access.

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

Dia dhuit a Pól
Conas tá tú?

If ever you get to Tassie I have a nicely set up Oakridge you could use!

Le grá mór
Brian x

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

I agree with Johnny Jay, Melody Player. Instead of buying something so cheap you don’t care what happens to it, why not buy something for £100-200 and try not to throw it off the roof of a bus?

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

I bought an Ibanez because the customer rating was very good. I looked just now and the customer ratings are very mediocre. I’m a woodwind/piano player and didn’t know what I was doing.
The set-up is terrible and the intonation is off. I think once I get it set up it will be fine but it will be more than a standard setup. I believe some fretwork will be required because the scale is off (more than just a bridge adjustment). It has a decent enough tone for the price I paid. The action is quite high - especially for someone like me that needs easier and lower action.
If I were to buy a new instrument I would pay the extra money and buy it from a smaller shop that has a guaranteed set-up - so you can take it back and get it tweaked if you’re not happy. Otherwise I would try to find a used mando you can play and know it plays comfortably.

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

Get a decent case - Hiscox, SKB, Eastman, etc. Now, if your instrument is really expensive then maybe consider something decent in the $200-$600 range (probably used), but a great case should be able to handle travel abuse (much easier to protect a mandolin than a bouzouki, guitar, or similar)

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

You’re definitely going to want to adjust your setup for any mandolin as cheap as that. Based on the cost, I’ll assume that the head is made out of plywood. The bridge will almost certainly need to be repositioned, and you might have to sand the bridge too. Take that opportunity to adjust the action on the mandolin as well. Never set the action super-low, even if you’re a new player, or you’re mandolin will sound like crap. You’ll improve the quality of the instrument a bit, but taking off all the strings so you can mess around with the bridge is a lot of work.

I don’t think a cheap mandolin will make you all that happy though. I recommend getting something worth at least 4-5 times as much as the mandolin you’re asking about.

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

I’d say the price tag is not necessarily a guarantee for a good-sounding instrument. My first mandolin was a Harley-Benton F-style that I ordered from Thomann in Germany for €139. It was surprising good quality (as far as I could tell) for that price, and in any case, for a beginner it was perfect. After having played for a couple of years I felt I wanted to upgrade to a better instrument and bought a Fender F-style through the local shop in town at the price of €600, but to be honest I still to this day prefer playing on the Harley-Benton, and even more so on a Portuguese style mandolin, also bought from Thomann for $130, which they sadly no longer seem to have in stock. But it seems, to me at least, that a lot of posts miss the point. As I understand it, the idea was to find something cheap that you don’t have to worry about, and that you can easily replace if it happens to break during a trip.
And about the tweaking, that’s another thing you don’t need to worry about with a uke ;).
Naturally this comment is not really relevant if you’re talking about buying an instrument to be used in a professional capacity, but then again, to me it clearly wasn’t what was asked for in the original post. ;)

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

>>>"And about the tweaking, that’s another thing you don’t need to worry about with a uke ;)."
The tweaking happens once a year, and it’s not nearly as bad as the tweaking associated with other instruments (nothing like watching a piper add even more dental floss, then take some off). Perhaps guitar might be a better instrument, as it also has a fixed bridge and is a bit louder than both mando and uke…

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

>>>Perhaps guitar might be a better instrument, as it also has a fixed bridge and is a bit louder than both mando and uke…

Well, maybe. A tenor guitar is possibly the way to go then, if you don’t want to give up on the fifths. :)

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

or octave mandolin.

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

The main problem with cheap mandolins (and sometimes not so cheap) is the set up. There is a fellow in the US who has produced an ebook on how to set up a mandolin for easy playability. It is an excellent resource and is free. To obtain a copy email: rob.meldrum@gmail.com and request a copy.
Also if you need more advice on cheaper mandolins try asking the question on Mandolin Cafe.
Cheers

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

Addendum:
Having just had another look at Rob Meldrum’s ebook, I think it is worth reading before you buy a cheap mandolin. It gives the reader a very good idea of what to look for when buying a cheaper instrument.
Cheers

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

Sergeant fox asked about mandolins that are both cheap and robust. I can’t suggest one as cheap as the model referred to, but as for robust …

When I used to do a lot of band gigs, with gear rattling around in the back of the van, I used an electro-acoustic Crafter mandolin (one of the small-guitar-shaped ones with the back made of fibreglass or something similar). Not the greatest-sounding instrument acoustically, but adequate for most purposes and tough enough to stand up to indelicate treatment. You could knock nails in with it. Not as cheap as fifty quid, but not silly money either.

Posted by .

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

Augh! I think a cheap mandolin is going to be painful to play and even more painful to listen to. A cheap mandolin is still a high-tension instrument, and if the tone is sour it will drill through and rot your brain in short order.

Monty Campbell mentioned the octave mandolin. That’s a good suggestion. The strings are lower tension, so they are easier to play without long warm-up, and playability issues like high action are easier to adjust out. They have a more mellow sound, so they are less likely to bother neighbors or neighbours. The differences I find between good and mediocre octave mandolins are projection, dynamic, and sustain, not intonation. You don’t need projection in a hotel room, and in any case you won’t find any of the above in a cheap mandolin.

I was going to suggest something cheap like a Trinity College TM-325. I have three because they used to be cheap, like Jameson Irish Whiskey used to be cheap. What is this world coming to?

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

Oscar Schmidt’s (Washburn) are serviceable, and can be found pretty readily for around $150 US. I think I paid $125 for mine and have been happy enough with it. Action, frets, and feel of fingerboard is decent. Sound quality is surprisingly good. Tuners are kind of crappy but can be replaced if needed. They often come with a good hardshell case too.

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

Thanks everyone for so much kind, constructive advice. I’m really grateful to you all. Brian, the day I win the lottery I’ll be on a plane out to Tassie.

Thanks,

Paul

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

I’d look for something like a Kentucky KM 150 on Eekbay. You can get a good quality instrument for under £150. I have done exactly this. You will need to check that it is in good condition and has had a good setup.

Good hunting.

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

Get a Stagg. I own an Eastman now but my first was StaggM20 (a lefty no less!) for £56. And I took it everywhere! It wasn’t that bad an instrument. In fact, I thought it did it’s job quite nicely.

Re: Cheap Mandolin advice

I have two cheap second hand ‘travelling’ fiddles. Both are a bit like sucking a lemon, despite me trying to improve them. Never again…..I will find a slightly better one and try to be just a bit careful. Incidentally one of them is by Gear4Music, not the most basic model. It is not at all appalling quality, just too high an action, and harsh in tone compared to what I am used to.