View Full Version : Thinking about a mandolin

04-15-2013, 03:57 PM
I'm thinking about branching out into mandolin - but I wanted to ask if there any fellow ukers out there who tried going to Mandolin - what did you think? How was the transition? Any thoughts on brands or tips?

04-15-2013, 04:28 PM
Guess you'd have to call me a former mandolin player, because I haven't really touched any of mine in years.

I prefer ukes these days because:

- those doubled steel strings are murder on your fingertips and the extra tension requires extra grip
- the neck is pretty narrow and cramped
- barre chords suck
- you basically have to use a pick if you don't want your nails mangled beyond recognition
- I've stabbed myself and drawn blood more than once trying to change those sharp steel strings

04-15-2013, 05:19 PM
I got one 20 years ago thinking it would be pretty cool but found out quickly it wasn't that cool for me. I'm with itsme it's a tough instrument to play. I didn't keep it long.

04-15-2013, 05:35 PM
I'm actually thinking about selling mine tomorrow... I want to buy a Flea.

04-15-2013, 05:39 PM
I played mandolin prior to ukulele. The mandolin is a tough instrument to play but like anything, daily practise and dedication will get you on the road. A few thoughts for you (my 2cents): get the widest neck mandolin you can (BigMuddy makes some great one's), set up is very important on mandolins and get the most mandolin you can for your money. The 2 main styles are A and F ("A" style is tear drop shape and "F" has a scroll). "A" styles are least expensive and you will go farther in quality for your money with an "A" style. If you have not already checked out MandolinCafe, do so. You will find many good questions answered in their forums. Good Luck!

Bill Mc
04-15-2013, 05:41 PM
I have a Breedlove Quartz and the new Gretsch solid mahogany New Yorker. The Gretsch is a real nice deal for a small amount of change. The all solid mahogany Gretsch gives a mellower tone than the spruce top/maple back and sides of the Breedlove. You will have to do the set up yourself or take it to an expert. However, it is no big deal to set up a mandolin accurately. Initially, mandolin chords seem a bit daunting but they are actually easier than guitar shapes because of their regularity - the mandolin is tuned in 5ths. I enjoy playing songs on the mandolin that I have learned on the ukulele - the approach is different but the results are interesting. And don't freak out about the narrow mandolin string spacing. With persistent practice even big mitts can cleanly finger four string chords. I would now recommend the narrow string spacing of the Gretsch over the slightly wider string spacing of the Breedlove. Go for it if you have the desire to try something new and enjoy the experience.

04-16-2013, 03:37 AM
I LOVE LOVE LOVE my Mandolin, the wife prefers the sound of the uke so I have been playing that more and it is much easier to play. It's fun when I go to switch chords on my uke and I use the fingering for my mando or visa versa.

Anyway check out the mandolincafe.com there is great advice for beginners there. A styles will get you more quality for less money as someone said but then you will have scroll envy and your MAS will be in full effect! Like the uke, go for solid wood. Setup is extremely important because if the strings are too high or too low you will have issues. Kentucky is a good solid wood brand made in the pacific rim so you can get an excellent price. Eastmans make good ones too. If you have some money and want a little more go with Weber or Collings would be my advice.

Good luck!

Cooper Black
04-16-2013, 04:37 AM
+1 for Big Muddy Mandolins.

Been playing mandolin for over ten years, guitar for thirty years now (ohmyhowtimeflies), and uke for only this last year. I think the uke is so much more like the guitar, with its strongest point being strummed accompaniment for vocals. The strong points for mandolin lie in different areas, flatpicking fiddle tunes and ensemble support (e.g. Bluegrass).

So, it really depends on what you hope to find taking up the mandolin before you can decide if the instrument is right for you. I really enjoy flatpicking old-timey fiddle tunes (and Big Muddy mandos are great for this style). I also really enjoy ensemble playing, but I'm not attending a regular jam, so a lot of those techniques are neglected these days.

I play guitar more than anything else, and I think there are many good reasons why that instrument is so vastly popular. Uke gets picked up next, followed by the piano. I rarely play mandolin. It takes a little more mental and physical effort to play, and oftentimes that's a put off.

Bob Bledsoe
04-16-2013, 05:24 AM
I've been teaching myself mandolin since January (a friend gave me one he never plays) so here are some thoughts from a beginner perspective:
I love it. I still play my uke almost everyday but play mando every day as well.
It's rougher on your fingers than ukulele but that just means your fingers will develop harder calluses. It's really no big deal. I'm especially proud of the callous on my pinky. Not everyone plays with their pinky but it's good to build that strength up so you have 4 fingers to use rather than 3.
The mando is tuned in 5ths (GDAE) which makes the fretboard make more sense than ukulele. That really helps for someone like me who is learning music theory.
It's opened up a whole new world of music that I never would have been exposed to. Bluegrass and fiddle music aren't anything I would have ever listened to but it's so fun to play that I'm being exposed to lots of it.
I've done a bunch of research on what mando would be best for me when I upgrade from my free one. Big Muddy always comes highly recommended but I like F holes rather than oval so I'm looking at the mid priced A or F models with F holes. For high quality, under $800 my options are Kentucky, Eastman and The Loar. Most everything else is either cheap/poor quality or WAY north of $1,000. I've decided on The Loar based on everything I've read and then playing them in a shop. They have a bit wider neck and sound amazing. But you won't go wrong with either of those 3 brands.
When I play ukulele, I play songs. When I play mandolin, I play scales. That's helped a ton. I learn songs on mando too but my focus is scales and various forms of "practice". That's really helped jump start my playing. I've found that I can learn a fiddle tune in a day or two since I've been doing scales so much. I also just made an "Uncle Rod's Bootcamp" for mandolin. So that's also part of my practice. Mandolin is harder to play than ukulele so that kind of practice is really important if you want to get a jump start on being able to sound good on it.
For me, mandolin has been a nice addition. It hasn't taken anything away from my love of playing ukulele and has probably made me a better uke player - I have much stronger, faster hands... I say go for it!

04-16-2013, 05:48 AM
I can play three chords on a mandolin with regularity - I think they are G, C, and D.

A friend who is a professional musician and actually gets paid to play mandolin said that I can play 80-90% of bluegrass songs with those 3 chords, which I think is a (slight) exaggeration. Mandolin seems to be made for a lot of melody playing, hence Bob's playing of scales. It takes a bit to adjust to playing on the strings tuned in fifths rather than thirds, but it can be done - as everyone will attest - with practice.

(Except for those two or three people who can pick up any instrument and start playing immediately... they should be part of the X-men, because they really are mutants.)

I enjoy farting around on a mandolin, but the one I have is a $79 total piece of crap with lousy intonation above the 4th fret, so I don't do it often. Imagine my surprise when Bruce Hutton (Of the Double Decker String Band, Hesperus, and Roustabout) handed me his Banjo-Mandolin at a festival last summer, and I was able to play something recognizable on it!

To go back to what Bob said, I think it is important that if you want to play Mandolin, you need to get something with quality. A cheap piece of crap will never get any better than it started out, and will frustrate the hell out of you. You can probably find a good quality, used instrument for a couple of hundred, and a very good used instrument for not much more. If you're going to buy new, Eastman and Loar are indeed very nice - I've only seen the Kentucky guitars, but they are impressive at quite a reasonable price.

You didn't mention if you have any friends who are Mandolin players. If you do, try whatever they have. If you don't, get to some folks/bluegrass festivals, see what people are playing, and check the Used Instrument Exchanges. There are often some real bargains to be had.


PS - one of my Starbucks customers plays mandolin... Classical music only. She has one of the old world bowl-back instruments, with the mutli-piece back. When I asked if she ever played folk music or bluegrass, she was shocked that I could suggest such a thing.

04-16-2013, 07:07 AM
Really depends on how you play and what you want to do with it. I have played mando for years and have beautiful custom built A style from Australia. But at the end of the day, I'm primarily a singer who uses my instrument whether it's guitar or uke to accompany my singing. The mandolin does not suit that so well. If you're an instrumentalist and likes playin in groups, the mandolin can be great fun. And also, as someone else mentioned, double steel strings under high tension are not for the faint of heart (or the weak of fingers).

04-16-2013, 07:41 AM
I have played mando for years and have beautiful custom built A style from Australia.

By any chance is it a Peter Coombe? I have one of Peter's mandolins, and it's a stunning instrument.

To the OP: I was (and am) a mandolin player for many years before I took up the uke. The mandolin is a beautiful and rewarding instrument. It is more challenging to learn than the ukulele, but if you genuinely want to play, it will be well worth effort. You've received some good advice on starter mandolins; a flattop mandolin like a Big Muddy (formerly known as Mid-Missouri, if you ever see them listed that way) may be a good way to start. Flattop mandolins are more economical to make than carved archtop mandolins, so you can get a good quality mandolin for a good price. If you're convinced you need an archtop mandolin, Eastman really does have the best price/performance ratio. Even their most basic models have hand-carved tops, and they deliver a lot for the price.

04-16-2013, 08:18 AM
+1 for Big Muddy Mandolins.

So, it really depends on what you hope to find taking up the mandolin before you can decide if the instrument is right for you. I really enjoy flatpicking old-timey fiddle tunes (and Big Muddy mandos are great for this style). I also really enjoy ensemble playing, but I'm not attending a regular jam, so a lot of those techniques are neglected these days.

I guess I'm interested for a few reasons. First, I like the history of the instrument. Second, I am interested in fiddle-tunes and classical - and I'm hoping the Mandolin repertoire can actually be broader. But finally, I just like new instruments and was thinking this might be fun in addition to my ukes.

04-16-2013, 08:26 AM
Sort of... kinda...

I bought an Epiphone Mandobird IV, a solid body electric mandolin with 4 strings. But I say "sort of" because I adjusted the intonation, and then tuned it GCEA. So although it was manufactured as a mandolin, I'm playing it as a uke. Not sure why, but there is virtually no leeway with fret finger placement. If I don't get ny fingers right on top of the fret wires, every note bends sharp. It probably should be retuned for mandolin, but then I'd have to learn how to play the darn thing. :p

04-22-2013, 01:15 PM
Mandolins are hard on the fingers at first ... just like anything else. you'll develop callouses. They are very linear instruments. I'm a guitar, mandolin, and banjo player. I'd be lying if I said mandolin was easy, but I'd be lying if I said it was the hardest instrument. Give is a call here at The Mandolin Store. We'll make sure you get the right instrument for you. One quick word of advise ... beware of ebay cheapies. They likely haven't been set up, and could possibly have an issue with the neck that makes it uncomfortable, and possibly unplayable. I suggest Eastman MD305. We have them for $499. Its a bit of money but it comes with a lifetime warranty in case you have any issues that develop. Just our $.02

05-22-2013, 03:35 AM
I wanted to chime in, even though this thread is semi-dormant right now. I am a new mandolin player, having spent about a month with the instrument and the training books. It's fun. For me, ukes are primarily about chords, whether strummed, arpeggio, or with some minor picking within them. It is a very personal instrument, beautiful, but not suited to playing in an ensemble. Great for backup as I sing. Mandolin is just the opposite, more of a melody instrument, able to provide chords if needed, but really shines on melody lines and providing rhythm in ensembles. It is harder to play, requires some precision. But just as I can sit and play for myself with the uke, I can also enjoy doing the same with the mandolin. I'm not particularly good on either, but i can play for me.

The mandolin is forcing me to learn more about scales and theory and how they relate to different forms of music. I could have learned that on ukulele, but I could have learned it on guitar too.

Having said that, I think the tuning in 5ths is a lot more instinctive for me than the tuning used in guitars and ukes. I find it much easier to pick up a melody line first try than on other instruments.

I guess my real message is to buy whatever you can budget for. I bought a $50 uke to see if I was interested. Using sandpaper and some info from other websites, I was able to lower the action to a usable height and to get the intonation dead on (remarkably so). Yes, I have played $500-1200 instruments in the stores and they play really nicely, but I didn't want to invest that to see if I would be interested. Now that I know I am interested, I can consider upgrading, although I plan to continue with this one for a while (maybe until a birthday or something ;) )

There is some great music in the world, including Irish, Scotch, Bluegrass, classical, Italian... many of these sound great on mandolin. Admittedly, some are also pretty interesting on the ukulele as well, but it sounds "right" on the right instrument.

Mandolin might be a good bridge to playing fiddle someday too if that interests you at all.

Mandolin Cafe is a great website with tons of info. Lots of performers there with instruments that cost as much as my fishing boat, but most are helpful.

I guess my thought (with respect to other posters) is that if you don't have $500 to determine your level of interest, get what you can. There are many under $150. I will agree that the scrolled F styles are probably not a good investment at the low price point, since other than looks that is just a fancy strap hangar, not really needed during the "try-out" phase. Once you decide, you can either sell out, upgrade, or keep your old one as an inexpensive wall decoration.

Take my advice or not. It is just an opinion. But don't let the entry level pricing scare you off. Buy the best you can justify, but don't let advice to spend a lot of money keep you from trying it. You can try it out cheaper if you are unsure and then upgrade later.

05-22-2013, 05:21 AM
My cousin just got a gretsch and ive played it quite a few times and I really enjoyed it. http://youtu.be/hSZ40V0teGM I learned a little of that song and it was really fun. The only thing I don't like about it is you pretty much have to use a pick but if you're good with picks you will have no problem

05-23-2013, 12:00 PM
How about a unique low-tuned mandolin built on a baritone Uke chassis?