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Advice on a Good Beginner Mandolin

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Jul 1, 2020 - 7:22:13 PM
3 posts since 7/1/2020

I’m new to the Mandolin Hangout. I’ve been doing some online research about what to buy for my first bluegrass mandolin. I’ve narrowed my search down to 2 choices: Eastman MD315 and The Loar LM-520. I’m leaning towards the Eastman, but any advice is welcome, and not limited to those 2 models. I’ve been a guitar and 5- string banjo player for many, many years, but the banjo seems to be getting heavier as I grow older! Always loved the mandolin, so I’m motivated to learn enough to be accepted into an occasional jam session.
Thanks.

Jul 1, 2020 - 8:26:16 PM

TSSN

USA

822 posts since 1/3/2011

Hello.

I have tried them both, and thought both sounded good. Between those two, I'd probably give the nod to the Eastman.

You might have a look at the Gretsch New Yorker (the G9310) as a first mandolin. It sounds good, looks nice, and is a lot less costly for a starter.

Good luck.

Jul 2, 2020 - 12:40:31 PM
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53 posts since 9/20/2012

TSSN always has good insights, but my perspective is to
1) Buy an A style. The differnence between an A and an F is cosmetic, Fs cost almost twice as much, so put that money into quality rather than looks.
2) Get as good an instrument as you can reasonably afford. It will sound better and play easier. Trying to learn a new instrument (as you already know) is frustrating enough. Don't compound that with the difficulty of a cheap instrument. The more fun you have playing, the more likely you are to stick with it, progress, and have even more fun.

Jul 3, 2020 - 6:44:56 AM

3 posts since 7/1/2020

Thanks, guys! I do like the looks of the F styles, especially the Eastman 315, but I will take your advice into account about the A models. I can always move up to an intermediate F style If I make some promising progress. There’s a local ad running in my area for a Kentucky KM250, which seems to get pretty good reviews. Maybe I’ll go take a look at it if it’s still for sale.

Jul 4, 2020 - 5:12 AM

TSSN

USA

822 posts since 1/3/2011

Yooper is spot on with his advice.

To that end, I have played a Kentucky, though it was a lower model (140 maybe?) The owner said it sounded ok to fair, but became way better sounding after a professional set up.   Not a surprise, just more food for thought.

Edited by - TSSN on 07/04/2020 05:12:53

Jul 5, 2020 - 12:48:37 PM

5 posts since 2/8/2015

I bought a Kentucky KM 276 because I like the color and prefer the way a soundhole sounds and I'm very satisfied.
I think the Eastman is a 305 and the one I tried was very well built.
I've played for about 15 years and Have a F style old Alvarez Summerfield but my KM276 was set up great out of the box and I find it easier for my 64-year-old hands to play. I also play guitar and I'm working on banjo

Jul 6, 2020 - 3:49:02 AM

mandoist

Netherlands

49 posts since 1/4/2011

Since the 1980's, I have been recommending Kentucky mando's to students and beginners who ask "what mandolin should I buy". 

To this day they offer an above-average sound/tone, feel, and overall excellent quality for the money. Some may argue they are priced a bit low; including myself. Some models have proven to be an investment. They all hold their resale/trade value quite well. 

Obviously there are a plethora of choices out there. Eastman's were mentioned, and have some of the finest woods at the moment; they are immaculate in workmanship, but vary widely in tone, balance, etc.

But Kentucky seems to be far more consistent overall -- and a step above most of the moderately priced instruments out there. 

To the OP:  I would suggest test-driving both an A-model and F-model. To most people, the solid tops sound better than the laminated tops. Whichever sounds and feels best to you... let it rest a couple days and go back to it. If it still gives you chicken-skin that's probably the one for you!

Only your ears and hands can make the choice.

Jul 6, 2020 - 3:59:51 AM

mandoist

Netherlands

49 posts since 1/4/2011

quote:
Originally posted by hywayman

Thanks, guys! I do like the looks of the F styles, especially the Eastman 315, but I will take your advice into account about the A models. I can always move up to an intermediate F style If I make some promising progress. There’s a local ad running in my area for a Kentucky KM250, which seems to get pretty good reviews. Maybe I’ll go take a look at it if it’s still for sale.


 

A couple things, if I may offer a bit of clarity.

* Contrary to another post, the difference between A's and F's is not just "cosmetic".
There is a noticeable difference in the sounds between an 'A' and 'F' model -- especially the tone.

* An 'A' model is no less an instrument than an 'F' model. Neither is an "upgrade" from one to the other. Whichever feels good and sounds good to you is the 'difference'.

FWIW: Among other positive points of a Kentucky is that the action (playability) is excellent on all models. A professional setup is key. Later on you may want lower action, higher action, different string spacing -- these are things some players consider as their playing and familiarity with the mando evolve.

Also, I should mention (re: Kentucky instruments) that the price difference from one model to the next higher quality model may be low enough for you to consider choosing a higher quality model. Price difference is relatively minor until you get to the "Master" models (top 2 or 3 models).

Edited by - mandoist on 07/06/2020 04:01:23

Jul 6, 2020 - 6:40:01 AM

3 posts since 7/1/2020

Thanks Kevin. I learned a lot just from reading your post. That is very helpful information. The action and playability is very important to me, especially since I have arthritis that really flares up now and then. It’s bad enough that I have just about given up guitar, and even banjo playing can be painful. I don’t expect the mandolin to be any easier in that regard, because I know you have to really stretch The fingers on some chords. But, your comments on the Kentucky models really got my interest. I like low action because it makes it a little less painful with arthritis. The info on the A vs F models is helpful. Like any other musical instrument, I know that tone and ease of playing is more important than looks. It would be helpful if there was a music store in my area to try different models, but there just isn’t. So getting help from you guys on the MHO is extremely helpful, and I appreciate you all for taking the time and interest with all your responses. When I do find the right mandolin for me, I’ll let you guys know. Until then, I’m soaking in all the info I can get!

Jul 6, 2020 - 8:21:50 AM
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53 posts since 9/20/2012

I will bet that if you did a blind listening comparison between A and F models from the same makers and qualities, you would not be able to identify the two styles at any more than chance levels. If someone has lots of mandolins, that would be an interesting experiment. My personal opinion is that there is a lot of placebo effect in folks hearing a difference between As and Fs. But that is just my opinion.

Jul 8, 2020 - 4:55:14 AM

TSSN

USA

822 posts since 1/3/2011

I have owned both A-style and F-style, and they both sound like a mandolin to me. I agree with mandoist that there can be differences, but I tend to agree more with Yooper, they are subtle. 

I like to point people to this older video from Tony Polecastro, which happened to have good production values (esp. audio).  He is discussing A and F-style Webers Gallatins, but the important part is "...with almost identical specs."  In the video, he switches back and forth.  Watch it without looking, because he talks about the differences, but never says which one he is playing first.  Then watch it a second time.  See if you guessed right.

This is only one data point Roy, but it might help.

Jul 8, 2020 - 9:26:27 AM
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53 posts since 9/20/2012

The other side of the coin is that if you really love the look of an F-style, then you will play and enjoy it more. That is the bottom line - get something that you love to play. For some, the curly-cues are very important. For others, fancy inlays and binding. For others, sound. Those with a lot of cash can have all of those, but most of us have to prioritize.

Jul 28, 2020 - 2:15:54 PM

GeoB

USA

3 posts since 7/23/2020

Dean makes a solid instrument, may fall under the Luna brand. Washburns are nice too. I have an older Alverez A200 which is actually F style. Aria PRO II are nice as well.

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