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The mandolin reviews database is here to help educate people before they purchase an instrument. Of course, this is not meant to be a substitute for playing the instrument yourself!

89 reviews in the archive.

Rogue: ff hole sunburst

Submitted by Peter Summers on 11/4/2014

Where Purchased: Musician's Friend

Year Purchased: 2014
Price Paid: 59.00 ($US)

Sound

It's a 59 buck laminated mandolin and sounds pretty much like that (sound improved with change of strings). Nevertheless, these Rogues continue to amaze me. I've purchased 3 over the past few years (this one being the 3rd -- and played one my friend bought from Musicians Friend) and they are all virtually flawless and perfectly setup out of the box. I have no financial interest in M. F. and am just reporting my experience. I know it's shocking and certainly not what I was expecting given the reputation of Rogues on this and other sites.

Sound Rating: 5

Setup

As mentioned above, setup was excellent out of the box. I don't believe it could be improved (for my taste anyway -- low at the fingerboard end and perfect business cart space at the first fret). I kid you not. My previous Rogues, a blacktop F hole and an oval hole, were similar and also ready to go out of the box. I did also review the oval hole on this site some time ago.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Bright, glossy cheap sunburst finish but quite pleasing to the eye and flawless -- not a speck of dust in the thick acrylic (I think) finish. These things are built so well it defies all reason. I have no idea how they can produce these for less than 60 bucks (used to be 50 bucks a year or so ago). Cheap factory labor I suppose.

Appearance Rating: 7

Reliability

Tuners work fine, no wobble, smooth turning. I can't anticipate the durability of this thing and I don't play professionally -- if I did play professionally I certainly wouldn't choose a Rogue, but for non-pros it is perfectly fine to learn on or play around the fireside.

Reliability Rating: not rated

Customer Service

Never had a problem with Musician's Friend. Fast service, instruments arrived setup and in great shape. I know people will dispute that M.F. does setups at all, but I'm justing telling it like it is. Mine were. 3 times now. I think 3 qualifies as a trend.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I don't know about durability. It feels solid and sturdy to me, seems very well constructed. Sound is thin and a bit tinny, of course, being what it is. But the sound is ok and mandolin like, and is improved, as mentioned above, by better strings. Upgrades on a 60 dollar mandolin strike me as silly.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

It is what it is, as they say. For a cheap laminate mandolin this thing looks, plays and sounds well enough for any beginner, or even more advanced players who are drawn to cheap instruments at bargain prices. I am often surprised by the negative reputation these things have on the mandolin sites. Of course they don't compete with the high dollar pro models. But so what?  For the price, I think they are an amazing bargain. Every beginner will eventually out grow them, obviously, but as an affordable starter instrument that allows anyone to learn to love and play mandolin music of any kind, these instruments are, IMO, the best dollar for dollar value on the Internet.

Overall Rating: 9

Gretsch: Gretsch New Yorker Supreme

Submitted by Peter Summers on 4/3/2013

Where Purchased: Austin Bazaar, Austin TX on Ebay

Year Purchased: 2013
Price Paid: 239 ($US)

Sound

I got this mandolin online with a Birthday Gift certificate mainly because I needed to redeem the certificate on Ebay, and I love the look of this natural wood model -- a refreshing change from the usual sunburst mandolins that flood the market.

It is a solid pressed mahogany top and back with f holes, completely unbound and unstained. I love the look. Gretsch calls it part of their "roots" series which are copies of Gretsch New Yorkers from the 1950s.

The sound? Well, not bad for what it is -- a bit darker than my Rover rm50, but not terribly loud (this might be a problem for some folks, but is great for those who live in, or plan to live in, close quarters like an apartment building). I have only had it for a day, so possibly the volume/tone may develop with more playing. In any case, it's no banjo killer and probably won't irate the neighbors too much.

Sound Rating: 7

Setup

Mandolin was received with the bridge off and no tension on the strings, and the nut slots were a little high. I set the bridge up with a low action and it plays well. I also filed the slots with nut files to lower them a bit, but I've come to expect this from mandolins ordered from guitar stores.

Setup Rating: 6

Appearance

All mahogany wood with what appears to be a clear varnish. Very nice looking wood grain. The finish is lovely to look at -- from a distance at least. Close up, the varnish has some dust specks buried in it, most of which I was able to remove with 0000 steel wool. Overall workmanship seens pretty good, but with a few crudities such as the f holes and the finish under the fingerboard extension.

The f holes are very poorly cut, as if someone did it on their back porch with a barlow knife.

The only inlay is the mother of pearl fret markers (with two dots at both the 7th and 12th frets, something I haven't seen before). There is no binding and the edges of the mandolin are nicely rounded.

The head stock is lovely, with a vintage shape and what appears to be rosewood or ebony overlay with very nice logo, just like the original models. The pick guard is very thick and is a kind of marbled black, not the more transparent tortoise shell imitation that I was expecting from the item description. Looks appropriate to the instrument, however.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Tail piece is a single piece pressed steel cloud type imitating the old vintage tail pieces. Seems well enough made. I'm not sure how the finish will wear. It doesn't appear to be very thick.

Unable to give it a reliability rating since I've not used it for more than a day now.

Reliability Rating: not rated

Customer Service

Have not dealt with Gretsch but the folks at Austin Bazaar on Ebay were terrific in handling my initial ordering mistake (I ordered without the gift certificate, then cancelled the order and was issued a refund promptly. I then reordered the mandolin using the certificate). Outstanding Customer Service from the dealer and I wouldn't hesitate to purchase from them again.

As for Gretsch, they offer a limited lifetime warranty on this puppy, which ain't bad for such a low end instrument. .

Customer Service: 10

Components

The fingerboard is nicely finished and straight, with even frets, and the playability is very good after my basic set up. The bridge seems of decent quality with small adjustment wheels, which I like. Appears to be of better quality than other bridges I've seen on inexpensive mandolins. The bridge seats perfectly on the slightly arched top right out of the box, no fitting needed.

I don't think any particular upgrades are required. It arrived with J73 strings on it which sound fine.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

Over all this is a fine looking instrument with a vintage 50s mojo about it, and with about the tone you'd expect from an all mahogany instrument for under 250 bucks. It isn't gonna set the mandolin world on fire by any means, but it is quite pleasant and I am pleased with it. I think it would probably make a very good beginner instrument, but maybe not loud enough for ensemble playing with fiddles and banjos. Doesn't matter to me, though, since I play mostly alone and don't require a loud mandolin.

It reminds me very much, in both tone and appearance, of some of the better Harmony models from the 50s and 60s. Not a great mandolin, but not a huge price either. You can do worse. I'll be keeping it, if for no other reason than its looks.

UPDATE: After playing this instrument for five days now, I have to say, in baseball terminology, Gretsch may have hit a triple on this mandolin - the tone seems to have deepened and become mellower and woodier (and louder), or at least I've become more accustomed to it and it seems so. It's developed a nice vintage sound and vibe and I think it may give other low end makers a solid competitor for those wanting an old string band sound and look. I do think, however, Gretsch needs to get better with quality control and eliminate the crude f hole carvings and dust in the finish if they expect to sell a lot of these.

As a consequence of this change in sound after a couple of months play time, I'm upping my overall rating to a solid 9. I'm beginning to really like this instrument.

Overall Rating: 9

Rogue: Oval hole A style

Submitted by Peter Summers on 3/18/2013

Where Purchased: Musician's Friend

Year Purchased: 2013
Price Paid: 72.00 ($US)

Sound

So reviled by the mandolin community is Rogue that it isn't even listed as a choice on the long list of brands on this review form -- and yet, it is (so I've read) the largest selling mandolin brand in the U.S. What accounts for this negative reputation? Well, maybe it's the laminated construction, the low price, the thick, heavy finish, and the expectation of lousy tone.

So imagine my surprise when I got this oval hole model on a whim and discovered that the darn thing is actually a remarkably good instrument for the price. Virtually flawless in construction (as far as I can see), well setup (see exception below), and with a very nice, albeit thin, trebley sound. In other words, perfect beginner instrument and a great "beater" IMO, and not at all the "junk" that many folks have referred to on this and other forums.

Sound Rating: 7

Setup

Amazingly, the setup was spot on, with the exception of the unison string spacing at the bridge. The nut was proper height, the bridge set to leave about 2mm distance at the 12th fret, and it plays easily and clearly all the way up the neck to the last fret. The neck is straight, the frets all level, and the play-ability is, frankly, excellent. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

The setup exception mentioned above was the only flaw -- the string spacing at the bridge between unisons of each course was much too close, though not causing any particular problem. Still, I took my trusty nut file and spaced them better for appearance sake.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

For a poly coated gloss mandolin with a painted on rosette around the sound hole, it looks very nice. Nice, if a bit abrupt sunburst over a nice looking spruce veneer on the top, boring and basically figure-less maple veneers on the back and sides. The finish is thick and of the typical "student" grade found on most low end mandolins, guitars and fiddles. I can live with it.

Appearance Rating: 6

Reliability

I can't imagine this thick finish wearing out. The tuners are all chrome, obviously inexpensive, as is the thin steel Gibson style tail piece, but they work fine (the tuners are surprising smooth and stable). I doubt any pro musician is going to take one of these to a gig simply because it isn't a professional grade instrument.

This mandolin appears to have a pretty thin pressed laminate top and I can only see one brace (on the top) thru the sound hole. I know plywood is probably stronger that solid wood, but the long term performance of this mandolin is unknown. If anything, I would expect possibly the top may collapse, but I haven't any real way to gauge this. I've seen a lot of cheap laminate instruments over the years that have stood up for decades just fine, so I wouldn't be surprised if this one did too.

Reliability Rating: 6

Customer Service

Musician's Friend is a fast shipper, has a good return policy and I have no complaints. Haven't had a reason to contact them but they have a good reputation on the Internet. I do not have enough information to give a rating.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

If I were going to upgrade a 72 dollar instrument, I would definitely get a better bridge. The rosewood original bridge is fitted ok to the top and works fine, but I would expect a better quality one would be perhaps more durable and maybe improve the tone a bit. All of that seems a moot point, given the price of these mandolins.

Components Rating: 6

Overall Comments

Look, everybody knows Rogues are bottom of the barrel instruments, and no one is likely to take one to a recording session. But my experience with this one is simply this: it is much better made and much better sounding than it has any right to be, and is better (or as good) as any laminate instrument I've ever seen. In fact, it is competitive with the all wood Rover rm50 I owned in many areas - just as well made (better tuners than the Rover), just as good sounding to my ears (a bit brighter, less "woody," but pleasant due to the oval sound hole, I think) better setup out of the box, and better looking. All at 1/3 the price of the Rover.

Perhaps my experience with good setup isn't typical for these instruments, and is maybe hit or miss when ordering something at this price from an online dealer, but I'm impressed with the thing and will not badmouth Rogue again. They ain't Gibsons or Webers, but neither are they crap, if this oval hole I received is any indicator.

Overall Rating: 7

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