Tips For Purchasing Your First Mandolin
Through out my years of teaching I have been constantly distraught at the quality of beginner mandolins that have walked through my door for students first lesson. This is no fault of the student but a problem that plagues the music retail industry. For what ever reason be its size and more complex construction finding a quality starter mandolin can be a frustrating task. It is my goal in this blog to offer up some things to look for when shopping for a mandolin.
A Style vs. F Style
The first thing one must decide on is what type of mandolin they are looking for. The two most common one’s are the “A” or Acorn Style and the “F” or Florentine Style. The mandolin you see most professional musicians playing is the F style mandolin. The draw back with the F style is that because of the scroll and points on the body you are looking at a more expensive mandolin and not necessarily a better sounding one. If you look at the basic shape of the F mandolin it is nothing more than an A style with body ornaments added to the sides.
This is why I highly recommend that you start with an A style mandolin. In general you will get more bang for your buck i.e. a better sounding instrument. Once you have some miles under your fingers you can always trade up to the F style.
Round Hole vs F Holes
The next major structural component to consider is whether you want a mandolin with a Round Hole or one with F Holes. The answer lies in what type of music you are looking to perform. If you want to play bluegrass music the F hole is probably the instrument you will want to be looking for. They provide the trade mark percussive “chop” that you hear on recordings. If you are looking at playing Irish or Classical music the oval hole will provide a more “rounded” sound with more overtones i.e. a more complex sound. This all being said by all means try both types for your ears will tell you what sound works best for you.
Flat Top vs Carved Top
Another factor that will effect the price of the mandolin is whether it has a carved or flat top. Flat top is exactly how it sounds while the carved top has an arch. The carved top instrument will typically be more money due to the increased time involved in making the top.
The next thing to look at no matter what type of mandolin you are playing the most important thing is how easy is it to play. The easiest thing to look for is how high our the strings off the fret board particularly near the 12 fret of the instrument. If they are extremely high off the fret board next look to see if there is any room to lower the strings on the mandolins adjustable bridge. As well as seeing if the bridge is in the correct location which is typically right around 14 inches from the back of the nut to the front of the bridge. If the bridge is in the correct position and cannot be adjusted any lower you need to move on to the next instrument.
Brands To Look For
The two brands that seem to be the most reliable on the market for entry level instruments are Kentucky and Eastman. Eastman being my beginner mandolin of choice because of their overall quality and price point. On top of that Eastman also offers both oval and F hole mandolins at all levels of their line of instruments
Have Your new Mandolin Looked At By A Professional
Once you have purchased your mandolin you should take it to either a professional luthier or your mandolin teacher to make sure you have purchased and instrument that will aid and not hinder you learning.
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