Choosing beginner mandolin

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Choosing beginner mandolin

Postby New to Mandolin » Mon Feb 05, 2018 7:47 pm

Hello,
I've been looking at mandolins for a few months now, with a view to buying one to start learning on.
I've asked lots of questions, but as a beginner, I'm still a little unsure about which mandolin would be best for me.
I was advised by a musician to start with an Ashbury mandolin and to spend around £250 to make sure it's not so cheap that it's useless, but not so expensive that it breaks the bank! Other advice that I've been given is to avoid ebay for 2nd hand. However, I've just seen this one (see link). It's new, within budget and an Ashbury!
I would be very grateful if anyone could advise me on whether this would be the right one for me.
Also, any info on mandolin teachers in the North Herts/Cambridge area would be great.
Thanks very much,
Yvonne
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Re: Choosing beginner mandolin

Postby John Kelly » Tue Feb 06, 2018 10:09 am

Ashburys are good instruments for the money, Yvonne.

What kind of music do you want to play on the mandolin? This A-style will let you play a wide variety of music and no doubt someone will get in touch to ask if you are aiming at Bluegrass music and if so then an F-style is what you want, but as a beginner you want a basic but easily playable mandolin, and it does not really matter about what sort as long as it has a good action and set-up. An Ashbury with a good set-up will certainly get you playing and will last for quite a while in your career, I'd say. this one is advertised as having a solid spruce top, and a solid top is always preferable to a laminated (cheaper) one.

Hope this helps you.
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Re: Choosing beginner mandolin

Postby Ray(T) » Tue Feb 06, 2018 11:48 am

The only thing I'd add to John's post is that, if you're buying on-line, there's always the chance that there might be something wrong with it or, more likely, that you're dealing with a "box shifter"; i.e. that whoever's selling it simply passes the thing on in the box it came in all the way from China.

I can't over-stress the importance of a decent set-up on a beginner mandolin and buying from a shop is usually a better option. Fortunately, Ashbury is a house brand of the Hobgoblin chain and they have exactly the same instrument at an identical price - https://www.hobgoblin.com/local/sales/p ... n-natural/

If you were to visit one of their shops (assuming they have one in stock) you could ask someone to play it for you which will at least demonstrate that it's playable. Should you have any subsequent problems you'll always have somewhere to take it back to.
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Re: Choosing beginner mandolin

Postby John Kelly » Tue Feb 06, 2018 12:10 pm

Excellent point, Ray.
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Re: Choosing beginner mandolin

Postby New to Mandolin » Tue Feb 06, 2018 9:43 pm

Hi John and Ray,
thanks so much- this has been really helpful.
I'd really like to play Irish trad eventually, but am happy to start out playing anything at all!
Yes, it's a concern buying one online alright; that's why I've been hesitating.
This particular one on ebay comes from a music store called Clifford Essex music based in Norfolk, so maybe less of a risk than buying privately.
I'll certainly check out the one from Hobgoblin too; it does make sense to hear it played and have it set up properly. Maybe a trip to London is on the cards after all!
Thanks so much for your help. I'll keep you posted!!
Best wishes,
Yvonne
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Re: Choosing beginner mandolin

Postby New to Mandolin » Tue Feb 06, 2018 9:51 pm

One more question!
the one on the Hobgoblin site has a plastic top nut as opposed to a wooden one. You mentioned that wood was an advantage.
Should I maybe buy the ebay one with its wooden top and take it to my local music store in Cambridge to get it set up right?
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Re: Choosing beginner mandolin

Postby Ray(T) » Tue Feb 06, 2018 10:56 pm

John is referring to the top surface of the mandolin being made of solid wood; which the Hobgoblin one is. The "nut" is the small bit near to the tuners which holds the strings in position. They're usually made of bone but plastic is a cheaper alternative and on an instrument at this price point, you're unlikely to hear any differnce.

In terms of setups, the thing to bear in mind is that most music shops know very little, if anything, about mandolins. The better ones might employ someone who can fettle guitars but mandolins require a greater degree of accuracy. Many shops farm setups and repairs out to third parties but my main concern in taking a mandolin into a shop would be that they might think that they can attend to the thing themselves - the uneducated might look at a mandolin as some sort of toy!

What you need is a tame luthier who knows what he/she is doing. We all have our favourites and I'll leave it to John to advise on this aspect as it's his forte. Depending upon what needs doing, you could add £50 a£100 to the price of the instrument getting it set up so it's better to buy from somewhere that its done as a matter of course on new instruments.
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Re: Choosing beginner mandolin

Postby Onechordtrick » Wed Feb 07, 2018 11:41 am

If I were looking for a beginner instrument I'd seriously consider this one https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kentucky-KM-15 ... N75WJQ3MYD

On the downside it will probably need a set-up but as it's almost half price....
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Re: Choosing beginner mandolin

Postby SimonDV » Fri Feb 23, 2018 5:01 pm

Hi Guys, hi Yvonne, yes I agree the set up is really important for a mandolin. You can get a professional to do it or do it yourself but either way you need to know how and what is being done. Herés one link: http://jazzmando.com/tips/archives/002490.shtml or maybe you could talk to the person who does the work?
I actually bought a new extremely cheap mandolin and set it up myself using the instructions, which do take a bit of studying to be able understand and complete, but I got a very reasonable sounding mandolin at the end of it, and MUCH easier to play. I’ve just tuned it today down to what some people call ‘Cajun tuning’ which is simply tuning everything down by one note, ie GDAe becomes FCGd. It’s a bit quieter, not so bright but has a wonderful warm rich tone now, am wondering if heavier strings would do the same. Ive had this mando for about 5 years but my advice? -buy the most expensive mandolin you can possibly afford! Even if you stop playing it you can always lend it to a favourite person and just listen to it. Enjoy!
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Re: Choosing beginner mandolin

Postby Ray(T) » Fri Feb 23, 2018 7:17 pm

Rob Meldrum has been handing out copies of his eBook for some years now and it comes highly recommended; although I do draw the line at manufacturing your own nut files from feeler gauges! The problem, for beginners, with getting someone to set your mandolin up is that they're unlikely to know someone competent enough to do the job. Music shops usually have a tame tech on board but, whilst they might know their way around a guitar, mandolins are different beasts and need someone with particular lutherie skills.

Tuning a cheap mandolin down a tone might help it sound better tonally but I suspect that is down to tonal inadequacies in the instrument itself. As for heavier strings, for a given scale length, if you are tuning lower you should, in theory, be using heavier strings just as you should be using lighter ones if you're tuning higher. The difference between heavy, mediunm and light sets will be reflected in string tension.
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