Help me find a good beginner's mandolin?
April 18, 2007 4:25 PM   Subscribe

Help me find a good beginner's mandolin?

I'm a guitarist who is interested in purchasing an inexpensive but decent mandolin to learn with. eBay regularly lists ludicrously cheap mandolins (<$100) but I'm wary of getting something that will literally fall to pieces after a short time. I've played some laughably cheap acoustic guitars. One I ended up putting a whole through because the laminate was so thin and cheap and I just wanted to see if I could do it without punching through (I could -- it went in the garbage). Another, bought for $99 at a pawn shop, ended up being my favorite guitar (it's a Yamaha FG series from the late seventies similar to the one Elliott Smith played for along time). So I know that price does not equal quality in all cases. So now that I'm thinking about buying a beginner's mandolin I'm uncertain about which brands to look at and consider. Any help would be appreciated.
posted by inoculatedcities to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
From another guitar player I highly recommend "Mid-Missouri Mandolins", (sometimes called Mid-MO). They're now defunct, but if you can find one on eBay or elsewhere, (maybe one of the larger online retailers), go for it. Their motto was "No frills, no plywood". Solid instruments, well-made, no headstock in-lays (they actually wood-burn instead to save on costs). A+++, would buy again.
posted by monkeymadness at 4:37 PM on April 18, 2007

I had an AskMe a few weeks ago about buying a new guitar, and the best overall advice was to go out and play them.

Definately hit the pawn shops and local music shops.

As far as brands go Fender makes some really nice sounding and affordable mandolins. I almost picked one up at guitar center a couple of years ago for about $200, but my fingers were too big to make any chords.

It kinda sounds like you're leaning towards a used one which is cool, but good new ones aren't really terribly expensive.
posted by snsranch at 4:50 PM on April 18, 2007

I have a cheapo Rogue brand mandolin from musiciansfriend that cost practically nothing and doesn't play half bad. It doesn't play anything like the super high end mandolins I've played, but it's playable, has decent action, and is good enough for learning. And for whatever it's worth, I'm a huge guitar snob and there's no way I'd play a super low-end guitar.
posted by The World Famous at 5:07 PM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you don't mind buying online try Folk of the Wood. They have a good reputation on eBay and in general, have mandolins starting around $150 and will let you trade up if you tire of your starter model. The website is a bit of a maze, though.

They also have assorted FAQs on choosing a mandolin in general.
posted by sardonista at 6:29 PM on April 18, 2007

I currently have a lovely, lovely Weber, but I started on a Fender. The Fender was much easier to play, IMHO. Get one with no laminates and you should be fine.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:44 PM on April 18, 2007

Ack, I hadn't heard about Mid-Mo closing down, that's awful. I love mine, it's a step above most entry level mandolins quality wise but at an affordable price. If you can find one in a shop or on ebay I would definitely recommend it.
posted by beowulf573 at 9:49 PM on April 18, 2007

The acknowledged experts on this, Mandolin Brothers, are extremely customer service-oriented and helpful; I'm sure they'd welcome your inquiry (and still wouldn't pressure you to buy from them)...
posted by allterrainbrain at 12:06 AM on April 19, 2007

Saga is making some good instruments these days. They are Korean-made (I believe) but a lot of instrument for the money. My brother has a Kentucky mandolin he's quite happy with and their Regal dobros and Blueridge guitars are getting raves from folks I know who own them.
posted by wsg at 12:12 AM on April 19, 2007

Those prices at the Saga page are retail. Much better deals can be had at the stores that carry them.

In case you don't know, no price in a music store is firm. It's not like Walmart. If you don't get at least 20% off retail, you should prolly keep shopping.

This page has excellent advise on buying an instrument. Technically, it's about buying a guitar, but every point the article makes can be applied to buying a mandolin. He has some great points on getting the price down, too.
posted by wsg at 12:23 AM on April 19, 2007

Nick has a Kentucky Mandolin that he learned on before he started playing guitar. He likes it and suggests you look into them. It likes they run $150-300 for their low end, and that's what he saw on which sells instruments. Check for Kentucky on eBay as well.
posted by bilabial at 6:56 AM on April 19, 2007

I also recommend Mid-Missouri mandolins. Mine, their "M-0" entry level model, is a well made, simple, and reasonably priced instrument. Note that while Mid-Missouri no longer exists as a company, they have reconstituted as "Big Muddy Mandolins". Their instrument line appears to have stayed the same.
posted by jcamp3 at 7:13 AM on April 19, 2007

If you really want a beginner beginner's instrument ($100 - $200) - try Lark In The Morning - they have several.
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:48 AM on April 19, 2007

they have reconstituted as "Big Muddy Mandolins"
That's great news. I always learn as much from questions I answer as from questions I ask around here. Be sure to check the dealers list at MidMo, (or whatever you're considering), and play. As a guitar player you've got an idea about tone even if you don't know the fingerings. Come back and update us on what you end up getting.
posted by monkeymadness at 8:27 AM on April 19, 2007

...and fiercecupcake, as much as I hate oddly colored instruments that's a great looking mandolin.
posted by monkeymadness at 8:28 AM on April 19, 2007

Thanks for the advice everybody. Exactly the information I was looking for. I'm uncertain about eBay because I'd really rather play one before I buy it but you've definitely given me a lot of information to go on. Mid-Missouri/Big Muddy sounds like a safe bet as well as Webers which have been recommended to me elsewhere. I'll have to check them out. Thanks again!
posted by inoculatedcities at 1:12 PM on April 19, 2007

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