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Help I want to buy a mandolin

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GUEST,Peter T. 06 May 00 - 12:34 PM
Jon Freeman 06 May 00 - 12:56 PM
GUEST,Frankie 07 May 00 - 08:23 AM
GUEST,Peter T. 07 May 00 - 08:32 AM
Grandma Marshall 07 May 00 - 09:35 AM
Willie-O 07 May 00 - 10:14 AM
Mooh 07 May 00 - 11:01 AM
Jon Freeman 07 May 00 - 11:21 AM
catspaw49 07 May 00 - 12:25 PM
GUEST,Frankie 07 May 00 - 10:34 PM
Mudjack 08 May 00 - 04:08 PM
GUEST,JZG 08 May 00 - 04:31 PM
Wesley S 08 May 00 - 05:09 PM
Peter T. 08 May 00 - 05:47 PM
Willie-O 08 May 00 - 06:33 PM
Jon Freeman 08 May 00 - 09:41 PM
Wesley S 09 May 00 - 09:05 AM
JedMarum 09 May 00 - 10:46 AM
Peg 09 May 00 - 01:43 PM
Richard Bridge 09 May 00 - 03:56 PM
GUEST,Frankie 09 May 00 - 06:56 PM
Willie-O 09 May 00 - 07:40 PM
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Subject: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: GUEST,Peter T.
Date: 06 May 00 - 12:34 PM

Actually, I have no intention of buying a mandolin, but I was wondering if some of the sage advice given about cheapish guitars here recently in a number of threads could be handed out re: mandolins. Just curious about what an inexpensive one would cost, should you buy a new one vs. a used, how you tell a good one, etc.
yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 06 May 00 - 12:56 PM

Peter, in my UK experience, I have seen things that sound and play well for as little as £45. I think the cheapest new one I saw was an Ozark which maybe had a slightly thick neck but was true and it sounded good.

My mandolin is a Harmony which I bought new for £50 in 1990 and has done me good service - the only drawback with it, is it is a little lacking in volume.

I guess with mandolins, you need to be clear on what you want them for - none of these will produce the sound that the Bluegrass players seem to go for but are perfectly good for anybody wanting to learn mandolin.

I would love to have an old Gibson (round hole - is that an A model?) that somebody I know owns - I love its tone and seems to suit my tastes better than the Bluegrass ones.

Jon


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: GUEST,Frankie
Date: 07 May 00 - 08:23 AM

Peter, My Holy Grail in cheap mandolins is a Gibson Army-Navy. I believe the one I owned was built during WW1 specifically for service men and distributed in PX's. It was very loud, very bright, and very playable until the top started caving in. After several attempts at restoring it a very competent local luthier put a heavy cross brace in it and it wasn't the same so I traded it off. I paid $200 for it and would buy another in a heartbeat if I could find one in decent condition. I now play a Flatiron 2 which was modeled after the Army-Navy. I've had it 8 years and it's sound is getting better but it still can't rival the old Gibson. The Flatiron is very solidly built(made in the USA, if that means anything to you) and I paid $350 for it used.
Kentucky makes some nice sounding A style round-holes in the sub $500 class. Made in Japan and imported by Saga. Good luck with your hypothetical shopping trip. Jon, Gibson A models are not exclusively roundholes. I use to play an A50 with F-holes and a big gnarly pickup at the end of the fretboard that was never used. The A designation is more a description of the body style. Maybe some of our resident mando experts can chime in here with more info.
I'm currently looking at Peterson (Level 2) Octave Mandolins and Bouzoukis at the Elderly website. They both go for $1150 new. Can anyone tell me anything about either of these. Regards, Frankie


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: GUEST,Peter T.
Date: 07 May 00 - 08:32 AM

Jon, when you say it isn't the sound bluegrass players go for, is that because they want something louder, bigger, more expensive? or what?
yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: Grandma Marshall
Date: 07 May 00 - 09:35 AM

Just want to throw this in the discussion: I want to TRADE one of my handwoven rugs for a nice fiddle. Just want to "fiddle" around with it and fixed income prevents purchasing one. I hope the barter system still works because I'm a custom weaver and knitter with good trading items for my musical pursuits!


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: Willie-O
Date: 07 May 00 - 10:14 AM

A bluegrass mandolin, typically F-style, is one that is loud and bright-sounding, set up to play hard because they really thrash em! What it usually doesn't have is a lot of sustain, so it's not ideal for Celtic tunes where you want a sweet, ringing sound that lasts. (In bluegrass style if you want a sustain-note you play a tremolo--picking the same note back-and-forth very fast--so the sustain is not important, you don't wait to hear it.)

My current mando which I've had for 10 years is one of the many A-50 style copies out there, a cheapo (famous name, though: Bentley!) which I paid $85 U.S. for at a festival. (And yes it does have f-holes. The much-admired early Gibson A series, Model A through A-5, have round soundholes).

A few things to look for in evaluating a mandolin: is the top solid and carved (it is if it has raised relief lines, like ridges on it) or is it plywood? Solid top is better, but plywood can be fine if the price is right.

The holy grail, bluegrass or newgrass is Gibson F-5 from the Lloyd Loar (acoustic engineer) period--till 1923 or so. These go for 30,000 U.S. up. Fortunately the wonderful Gibson A's from the same period are much cheaper--starting at about $800 U.S. now, and I want one. Aside from the usual wear, model (higher the number the more $) and playability, there's a premium value on what they call a "snakehead" style peghead. This is the type that is narrower towards the end--I think it separates the strings better at the pegs which reduces buzzing and that kind of problem.

Remarks I have made about cheap guitars are applicable here as well--a knowledgeable player will be able to pick out the maybe one in 10 or 20 of a bunch of cheap ($200) mandos that's a good one. It's not entirely subjective.

More people should play mandolin, it's a good antidote to too-many-guitars-and-fiddles.

Willie-O


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: Mooh
Date: 07 May 00 - 11:01 AM

Some thoughts.

I happened on a good sounding A style Washburn, solid top, but with lousy tuners I intend to replace. This replaced a very good F style that belonged to a friend but which I played for years. I prefer the A style and someday would like to get an old Gibson. This Washburn was leagues better than many other practically identical models and I believe I simply found the best of an otherwise so-so lot. It pays to test-play many virtually identical instruments because the woods are never identical and the construction on some is much better than on others. Wait for the magic one to appear, you'll not regret it. Trust your ears.

You're right Willie, more folks should play mandolin.

Second hand is just as good as new (think old fiddle) and the real deals are often just a result of constant vigilance.

Check out frets.com for tips about how to improve the sound, but I did wonders by tweaking the nut and bridge and intonating the thing properly. Set up on lesser expensive instruments is often lacking, and not all shops will look after that before they put it out for sale.

Peace, Mooh.


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 07 May 00 - 11:21 AM

Willie-O I have tried a coulpe of Bluegrass ones that have been set up really hard and seem to need that sort of set-up to work at thier best. The other thing I found was I had to be very heavy with my playing to get results. Would you agree with my thoughts that this would be OK for somebody with playing experience on plectrum instruments but actually a very difficult instrument for somebody completely new?

PS, and thread creep, thinking of the person I know with what is obvoiusly (to me now) an early Gibson A model, he also owns a Gibson Mando-cello. When I tried it, I found it hard work but very rewarding and worth the effort. Unfortunately, he could not cope with the proper stringing and changed to some other stringing and tuning - maybe bozouki. It lost all the sound qualities I loved in in tuned that way. Has anyone else played one?

Jon


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: catspaw49
Date: 07 May 00 - 12:25 PM

After reading GUEST Frankie's comments above, I am glad to see there is precedent for the CIA issuing a supply of Tiples at the "Neil Young Center for the Terminally Screwed." I should have known that they are not all that creative and got the idea for Crazed Tiple Band Overthrow Squads from somewhere else!!!

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: GUEST,Frankie
Date: 07 May 00 - 10:34 PM

Alright,O.K Spaw, so I didn't buy the Gibson. It was issued to me when I checked in for a brief stay at the Rudy Vallee Clinic for the Totally Disoriented. That was a long time ago and I'm doing fine now.Hey, WHERE THE HELL AM I!!!


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: Mudjack
Date: 08 May 00 - 04:08 PM

I have seen and heard the newer style Ovations and to my surprize sound like a million bucks. The best surprize is they cost a whopping $1200 when they first hit the market but are are now bargained out for much less, like $500 to $600 new. I can't begin to tell you why.
My mandolin is a an old glued back together Gibson A1 and sounds great but had to lighten my bankroll an additional $200 to have the neck and action done. The best thing I ever did to have a pleasing pickin' machine.
Mudjack


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: GUEST,JZG
Date: 08 May 00 - 04:31 PM

I was shopping for a good cheap mandolin about a year ago, & wound up getting one from the "Mid-Missouri Mandolin Company" which from its pamphlet is a relatively recent company that exists to make inexpensive non-plywood mandolins. Mine was about $400 and I've been pretty happy with it. They have a couple of different "models" in different woods, but all are shaped about the same, with flat back & top and a round soundhole. I've been told that the flat back & top produce the ringing, sustained sound that I prefer, while the curved top gives the plunkier, less sustained sound that a lot of other folks like. But I don't have enough experience of different mandolins to know how true it is ...

And yes, more people should play mandolin.

JZG


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: Wesley S
Date: 08 May 00 - 05:09 PM

I'd have to agree with JZG about the Mid-Missouri Mandolins. I think they're a great value for under $500.00. The one I have for sale - an M- 4 is an even better value { hint - hint }. It got me started but I later traded up to a Weber Bridger model. I like the A styles too. I've liked most of the Webers I've played.

Frankie - I met W A Petersen at a Celtic festival this year and I like his octave mandolins. I'm saving for one now. I think for a little extra - $1300.00 you might want to consider his Level 3 models. I don't think Elderly offers them at their site. Lots of different wood types to choose from. Petersen is great to work with. I chatted with a guy at his booth that had 2 Sobbels and preferred his Petersens. You can e mail Petersen directly at zouki254@aol.com. Or you could buy my Mid Missouri mandolin so that I can get my Petersen a little quicker. That way I'd have even more info for you.


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: Peter T.
Date: 08 May 00 - 05:47 PM

what is an octave mandolin? yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: Willie-O
Date: 08 May 00 - 06:33 PM

An octave mandolin, Peter, has a normal (mandolin)size body but a much longer neck. So the strings are correspondingly longer and are tuned a full octave lower than a mandolin. It's one of the ways to get the sort-of-guitar-timbre sound without losing the normal fingering patterns for fiddle tunes which are designed and built to be played on four-or-eight strings-tuned to fifths. (Playing these tunes on guitar is rewarding but difficult).

Jon said: The other thing I found was I had to be very heavy with my playing to get results. Would you agree with my thoughts that this would be OK for somebody with playing experience on plectrum instruments but actually a very difficult instrument for somebody completely new?

I don't know, I think I've lost my perspective. The usual comment people make is "how can you play between those tiny frets?" I've always thought it was easier, cause all the notes are closer together and you don't have those awkward reaches. In fact I have long thought that if you had a nice easy-playing mando, and put just four strings on it, it would be ideal to start kids on. (They tell me this makes is a ukulele, but I mean a real instrument). Tried it with my kids a bit, and it seemed to work o.k.--the instrument had uncomfortable frets, though, and they didn't keep it up.

Bluegrass-setup instruments are for sure harder to finger, they use heavier strings. But different mandolins have astonishly different playing characteristics. Like I said, I've been playing the same nice cheap thing for ten years now, like it just as much as lots I've tried in the $5-800 category, and just a couple of years ago I tried a 1917 Gibson Model A. I was utterly floored by the sound and playability. Like nothing I've ever played--and that's the cheapest one they made then!

I think the real reason more people don't play mando is because they don't think of it. Most people know they exist but don't know when they're looking at one. "Is that a ukulele?" Then again nobody tells mandolin jokes either.

W-O


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 08 May 00 - 09:41 PM

I have to agree with the thoughts on the fret spacing. The only problem I have is I do find it a little odd as I mainly play tenor banjo - another excellent instrument for those wanting to use GDAE tuning and play "Irish" tunes.

I had a ukelele-banjo for some time that I tuned to GDAE and it worked quite nicely though I still prefer my proper mandolin-banjo. These are great fun - I don't know why more people don't play them.

Jon


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: Wesley S
Date: 09 May 00 - 09:05 AM

As Willi-o said a lot of people don't know what a mandolin is unless it's an "F" style body. I play an "A" style. Without fail when I play somewhere I'll have someone come up to me and ask how long I've been playing the ukulele. But if someone ever comes up and asks if it's a tiple I'll know that I'm talking to a Mudcatter.


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: JedMarum
Date: 09 May 00 - 10:46 AM

When I saw the thread title I thought it was a public cry for help, you know; "Help, I wanna buy a mandolin - save me from myself!"

but I see that more reasoned minds then mine understood!


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: Peg
Date: 09 May 00 - 01:43 PM

I saw a sweet little 1925 Martin in a music store last year; it was there for months for $600. I finally figured it was a good deal or that I should at least try to haggle on the price. Then I went back and it had been sold...I should have bought it...vintage instruments are great!


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 09 May 00 - 03:56 PM

I see the Saga instruments are mentioned.

I have one. A Kentucky flatiron (Japanese built, according to the label on the headstock). Plays easy, and is nice and bright. It was about GBP 300, which is not that cheap. I bought it new from the well-known (to UK Banjo players) Andy Perkins who has a shop. He is a retailer of musical instruments. Inside the soundhole is a card with a guarantee "Kentucky Mandolins are guaranteed to the original purchaser for a period of one year under the terms of our warranty".

The top on mine split in 6 months. I traced Saga in Los Angeles and telephoned, all the way from the UK. In fact I telephoned several times to argue with them. Basically they did not want to know. They were not prepared to do a damn thing for me - even after I told them that I was a lawyer.

My advice to you is never, never, ever, buy anything (Mandolin or anything else) which has come through Saga. They will rat on any obligations they may have to you. Tell your friends. Anyone who takes that attitude to the instruments they supply ought not to be in business.

And if you work for Saga, or know anyone who does, forward this to them. Every word in it is true.


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: GUEST,Frankie
Date: 09 May 00 - 06:56 PM

Yeah, more people should play mandolin (if they want to). As a primarily fingerstyle guitarist I feel like playing fiddle tunes and such on the mando has really helped to give me a more linear approach to melody as compared to just finding convenient notes inside of chords.
Thanks a lot Wesley for the Peterson info. I'm not in the market for another small mandolin at present but I would defintitely love to hear a review when you do acquire your O.M.
And thanks Richard for the cautionary words about Saga.

Frankie


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Subject: RE: Help I want to buy a mandolin
From: Willie-O
Date: 09 May 00 - 07:40 PM

Too bad about that, Richard. Another nice thing about at least the newer ones is that they are quite durable, stable instruments and can tolerate much more casual handling than you would subject a guitar or fiddle to. (You can get quite a few more whacks out of em in a barroom fracas) (I suppose).

They make a handy spare paddle too. Good in whitewater, eh.

Willie-O Le Voyageur


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