Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

310 or 520 Loar


I want a mandolin, and I’ve never played before.

The Loar 520’s tend to get better reviews.
Are they worth the extra money?

I appreciate the input.


I haven’t played either of these, so take my opinion for what it’s worth (not much.)

Looking at the details of each instrument, it seems to me that if you have the extra money, you’ll be glad you got the 520. The 2 biggest selling points to me are the solid wood construction and the upgraded tuners. Tuners seem to be extra important on mandolins for some reason. Maybe it’s the short scale length. I’ve owned a mandolin with cheap tuners. It’s very frustrating. Yeah, it’s $250 more, but sure sounds like it’s money well spent to me.


I have a 310 and It has good enough tone (for a $300 mando) but like Mark said, the tuners are trash. I might look at replacing them soon.


Welcome to the community. I had a 310 which sounded great for the buck, but was hard to play. I didn’t have any problem with the tuners. Mine stayed in tune better than some of my more expensive mandolins. If you have the money, I will always tell you to upgrade to the better instrument. The better it sounds and plays, the more likely you’ll be motivated to play. If you don’t have to have a new F style, at the price of a 520 you might find a really nice used A style on the Mandolin Cafe classifieds. If you are going to buy new, I can’t recommend the general store enough. I bought my Northfield from Jake and Ben and it was a great shopping experience. Good luck in the search.


If you can afford it, the 520 is worth the additional cost, yep :wink:


If you don’t mind me answering a question with a question… are you set on getting a the Loar? And are you set on getting an F style? Because I would highly recommend a Kentucky KM150 over either of the loars, and it’s only a bit more than the 310

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That’s an excellent point, Gunnar. Even Jake has said that, dollar for dollar and all else being equal, you tend get better tone from an A style mandolin.

I’m guilty of liking the looks of the F style more, though, even at the possible cost of tone.


Most people are, and that’s ok. If having a scroll makes you want to pick it up and play, then great, get one. But if tone is what makes you want to play, then you’ll usually get more for your money with an A. I don’t personally have a preference, honestly I want a few of both, they both look great to me


I’m stuck on the looks of the F style… it’s just looks I guess.

I appreciate all the input. It helps!

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Well that’s fine, in that case I would have a look at the Eastman 315, it’s a similar price and usually higher spoken of

Thanks to Jake for the email conversation.

I’ll order something on Monday… if not sooner.:+1:


Experienced Guitar Player here. Bought the Eastman 315 @ Banjo Ben a few weeks ago and all is fine. I have noticed, at times, it takes a little more time to tune as someone above said the tuners do not always react quickly/etc., but that’s ok with me. Almost bought the KM-150 A Style but decided to spend a tad more now rather than later. With guitar, I’ve settled on the Taylor GS Mini as my “go to” guitar, because of stubby fingers and pinky that points inward, which is a physical limitation on both guitar and even mandolin. Chop chords are OUT for the pinky but already have a drummer in my small band so no big deal. Seems like the mandolin may be improving my guitar flat picking or I’m dreaming. HA! My only consternation on mandolin is that it takes a bit more finger pressure for me especially on the bass notes. Ordered some light strings, do same on guitar, to see if that will help. Yes, I’m satisfied with the Eastman, learning a lot quickly on the lessons here and having fun.


Thanks for the feedback and your support of the General Store! Yes, the mandolin practice will crossover into your guitar playing, and vice versa :wink: The lights will help, but you’ll also grow in strength over time.

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@Dragonslayer, @Mark_Rocka,

Isn’t it true that each Mando has - well, its’ own sound and personality tonally over time. Each grows and breathe (break-in) in their own way, I am told.

Then, there are the commonalties of the devices on those groups of instruments that are both stylish and functional: tuners, wood type, neck style, bridge (although, I freely admit I don’t personally know the full impact of Bridges with Mando’s - but I am sure someone does).

That said, I think there are some general differences in tone with F-style versus A-style… primarily due to the hole. An oval hole (on most but not all A-styles) or “ff” holes (like a violin, on most but not all F-styles) as the oval offers a rounder, mellow sound and the “ff” holes offer a slightly brighter tone.

I opted for an Eastman MD-315 F-style with the matte finish and I love it, which I think is a little more than the more expensive Loar you mentioned.

Also, it has been said many times that whatever the instrument, setup is critical. I strongly recommend you purchase through the store and having @Jake provide the setup! You can trust them and they will deliver.

One final consideration: @raycouch , the choice can be balanced this way: 1) Is the instrument a good base model that you can learn on. I say it like this, if @BanjoBen could make the least expensive model sing, then the instrument is good enough to learn on… versus the other basic truth that when you buy through someone you trust (Ben’s Store) then paying the extra will most often result in an instrument that will perform better because of the value of upgraded Components… in nearly every case, the value is there because @BanjoBen and @Jake are trustworthy.

Still, we all must live within our means… and what I like about the store is they “get it” that budget/value is just a fact of life.

One other thought that helped me decide on my purchase between a less expensive Eastman MD-315 and a more expensive MD-515…

Try to see if @BanjoBen has a demo video for the instrument model you are comparing. Additionally, see if you can find one by other players online.

Then, don’t get caught up on how they play… but close your eyes to listen to the sound.

I actually felt that the 315 had a more open sound than the 515 in a couple of videos I saw… and since the players were the exact same - you are truly hearing the instrument.

I hope I have helped you consider some other views… and I also respect the input of all these people here… As they are passionate about the music - not about selling.

@raycouch , Let me know which you decide…

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I don’t agree with that first statement, I would say that probably about half of A styles are F holes, and that the hole should be considered more than the body shape

I stand corrected. Thanks @Dragonslayer