View Full Version : Any Mandolin Players?

Jake DPR
09-13-2010, 08:23 AM
I want a decent sounding and playing mandolin, but on of the Mandolin forums I have checked it seems to be the attitude is there is nothing decent for under 500 dollars. Is this true?

Inn Sea
09-13-2010, 03:17 PM
I have a Big Muddy mandolin which was over $500 new, but they usually go for less than $500 used. Big Muddys (formerly Mid-Missouri) have a decent reputation - they lack the throatiness of a higher-end archtop, but they have a pure sound that I really like. They also offer 1-1/4" nuts, which is my preference. If you stake out the Mandolin Cafe classifieds long enough, you'll eventually find people with MAS who are selling their Big Muddys in order to upgrade.

If you prefer the more aggressive tone of a carved top, you will easily find some package deals under $500 - but in my experience you'll probably run into significant quality control issues.

09-14-2010, 02:40 AM
I know that Baddhuu is a mandolin player, he is also a mod on here. I'm sure if you pm him he will give you some good advice.

09-14-2010, 04:26 AM
I have a Kentucky KM150. It's an A style with solid spruce top, solid maple sides and back, maple neck, and rosewood bridge. It has a crisp, bright tone. These typically need a professional setup but can be purchased for around $250.00.


09-14-2010, 05:39 AM
I want a decent sounding and playing mandolin, but on of the Mandolin forums I have checked it seems to be the attitude is there is nothing decent for under 500 dollars. Is this true?

Yes. That is true.

09-14-2010, 04:22 PM
Now is a great time to buy a mandolin or really any instrument because there are a lot of people that are needing to sell due to financial reasons so there are deals to be had. Your best bang for your buck would be a used A style. What people usually don't realize is that you can save getting a cheap instrument new but then you go to pay another $100 or so to get it setup properly. My suggestion would be to look for something used that someone has been actively playing but are probably selling to upgrade to an F style. Most likely it has already been setup and possibly upgraded. Also, look for solid top, back and sides. My first mandolin was a KM-140S and I was told that the S meant that it was solid. What they failed to tell me was that it was a solid top not solid throughout. The back and sides were plywood.

You also have to decide what type of instrument you want. An oval or an F hole? There are a lot of vintage instruments out there that can be picked up for some good deals and are good players. There are some lower end vintage instruments like Regal, Kalamazoo and Stradolins that are real gems. You might try searching for a used Eastman. I do know in the past that Eastman has discounted some blems to their dealers, so you might be able to track one down.

Finally, there are a lot of kits available on the market that have the potential to be as good if not better than a $500 production instrument. Some are pretty easy to put together.

Here are a few to get you started.
There is a nice looking Mid Missouri at Elderly for $425. There is an excellent looking Eastman at the mandolincafe for $450. I highly recommend the Redline mandolins, which there is one posted on mandolincafe, by Steve Smith at Cumberland Acoustic. You might call him and see if he has any blems. Also, check out Howard Morris. He builds some quality instruments.

Jim Yates
10-06-2014, 06:11 AM
As thistle3585 hinted, you will always get a better quality mandolin at a given price if you go for an A style. In other words, a $500 A style mandolin will be a much better quality mandolin than a $500 F style mandolin.
Just as folks who are used to driving a BMW may not feel comfortable driving a Toyota, folks who are used to playing mandolins that cost thousands of dollars, may not feel comfortable playing a $500 mandolin, but different folks have different ideas of what a "decent sounding and playing mandolin" is.
My first mandolin, a 1918 Martin bowl back, cost me $20. It didn't suit what I eventually wanted to play, but it was "decent sounding and playing". That was about 1963 and I don't think you'll find something like that today.
In the early seventies I bought a brand new $75 Ibanez with a solid top and played it for several years. My son even played it professionally for a few years.
Granted, for $500, you'll probably not get a mandolin that will have players saying, "Wow! That's a fantastic mandolin! Can I play a tune on it?" (unless they're playing a $250 mandolin) but, if it's properly set up, you can get a good sound out of it. I've heard some kids at jams with $500 and less mandolins who can knock the socks off the guys with mandolins worth 4 or 5 times as much.

10-06-2014, 09:35 AM
I have a Kentucky KM150. It's an A style with solid spruce top, solid maple sides and back, maple neck, and rosewood bridge. It has a crisp, bright tone. These typically need a professional setup but can be purchased for around $250.00.


For the price, the Kentucky 150 gets rave reviews on the mandolin forums. There are plenty of reviews and youtube videos on it, and if one gets it from one of the better vendors, it will come set up properly and ready to go. Suggest checking on MandolinCafe.com for the better vendors.

Jim Yates
10-06-2014, 11:19 AM
I'd try to play before you buy. I don't like buying on line, but that Kentucky KM150 is a nice looking mandolin and it's all solid wood. Looks like it's worth $250 for sure.

10-31-2015, 10:29 AM
If you are still reading this......(Halloween), go to the mando cafe and check for a Poe mandolin in the classifieds. There is a used one there right now...not much over your budget.

Andy Poe is a great builder. I am a bit biased however, because he is building a new Oval A style for me right now.

I'd jump on it if I didn't have enough already....Don

10-31-2015, 10:36 AM
One of my colleagues from work (who convinced me to give the uke a try) is a mando player. He has a Poe and a Big Muddy and likes them both. (He also has a 1917 Gibson, which he paid a lot more than $500 to acquire.) A-style is the way to go if you're on that kind of budget, and if there's a Poe for that price at Mandolin Cafe, I'd jump on it. (I bought my first uke there, BTW.)

11-11-2015, 07:49 PM
Pawn shops, pawn shops, pawn shops, especially if you can do a little luthiery work yourself. Over time I saw quite a few good mandolins for very low prices this way, some played some didn't; finally snagged an early 70's Kay mandolin for 25 dollars, just needed tuners, strings, bridge, nut (about 30 dollars) and some love. All maple, solid top, looks and sounds very nice, excellent intonation. Also got a 30's or 40's Armenian mandolin for 40 dollars, just needed strings and work, good shape, plays well. Don't know how to do the luthiery work? I didn't either, clueless when I bought them, I just did alot of research and got 'er done. Have seen numerous quality mandos that worked fine for under 250 dollars in pawn shops.

11-20-2015, 11:58 AM
Generally it doesn't pay to buy a cheap mandolin. Years ago I bought a beginner's Morgan Monroe and was so turned off by the lack of "life" in the thing that I abandoned mando till years later when a pro let me try his. Now I've been taking lessons from him for nearly two years. I do have a Fender, which was inexpensive and good enough to play on, but I quickly upgraded first to Big Muddy and then to Eastman. I can recommend the Eastmans as real value. I also have a Trinity College octave mando, which I like a lot.

11-21-2015, 03:27 AM
Ditto on the Eastman as a great value. Had one that I traded for a LoPrinzi uke.

Mandolin types all play/sound different. Over the years went from a Fender A-Style, a The Loar F-Style, a RedLine Traveler flattop, a Rover A-Style, an Eastman A-Style, a Burgess flattop (still have) and a couple others I don't remember. Everyone usually ends up with a favorite type, and the flattops won me over.

11-21-2015, 03:38 AM
One more vote for Eastman - you can get their base A-model (model 305) for $400 if you shop around. My local music store had 4 in stock, so I my daughter and I got to play 4 back to back - there is definitely some variation in the sound between them, but they are a huge step up from the $200 models. If you can visit a store with several it might help you find the price point that works for you.

12-01-2015, 12:46 PM
[B]I got a beautiful Iida Japanese mandolin as a BIN online from a pawn shop for $75 + shipping- just needed cleaning up and a little setting up. Got it in Jan and it's opening up in sound slowly. It sounds much more "open" now than when I first got it. My 1st mando is a Kentucky KM-140 that had to have a truss rod adjustment- it's one of my main mandolins for teaching-great sound & feel. Also was given a Roca mandolin made in spain with a lute shaped body...replaced the bridge on that one and it's my fave for ren music and Venezuelan folk tunes. /B]

12-01-2015, 04:06 PM
I am a long time active member of the Mandolin Cafe and have been playing for decades. I don't believe that the general consensus on the Cafe is that there are no good mandolins under $500. It is just a matter of your getting what you pay for -- just like ukes. There are some nice Asian-made mandolins in that price range that are quite playable esp if you buy them from decent stores that do set up. The main difference is that the most popular mandolin is the carved top variety which is more labor-intensive than flat top ones. Most ukes are flattops so the lowere range of prices are generally lower that that for mandolins. Also the upper crust mandolins are often F-models which have a lot of additional cosmetics like scrolls and points which do add to the price. As those posters above noted stick to the A models for more bang for the buck.