Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Gonna buy....just a few Q's

I only held a mandolin for the 1st time, this week. I come from a fingerstyle guitar background, and I’m just getting into flatpicking the guitar, right now, also. The guitar’s coming along faster than I thought.

But, I also want a mandolin. Here’s what I DO know:

  1. I want an F style. I understand the A’s might be a better value (from some background reading). That ma very well be true. But, I know what I like.

  2. I can play the G, C, D open and the G closed chord. I wanted to make sure they were simple enough, before I got too far down the road. Successful test-drive.

Now…here’s what I DON’T know:

  1. What’s the best bang for my buck…with a tentative price cap of +/- $500?

I’ve heard the Eastman name thrown around quite a bit. I’ve heard the loar mentioned. Both are close to that price range, with the “intro” F-style Eastman’s “I” am finding pricing out around $650. Does this sound right?

Open to any and all suggestions. And, I appreciate your input.


My Backup is a Eastman 515 and it is a great Mandolin, Not the Volume of My Pricetone or Gibson but Really good for a Import , when playing with a group however it needs to be played near a condenser mic for any real sound. I also have a Kentucky F style (630) that I have a ton of miles on , it was a good piece and I would suggest looking into them for a starter , just stay in the 600’s for your price range, They tend to have a kind of “Tinny” sound in the price range you mention but some people like that, I’m about to put it on Ebay, I never play it anymore.
Good luck on your purchase, its always fun getting into something new, I’m staring hard at the Dobro myself :mrgreen:

Hi Jeff, I’ve been there and done that so here’s what I think. If I had to start all over again with $500 I’d save another hundred or two and find a used Eastman 515 or equivilent pac-rim mandolin. You’re not going to get much bang for your buck on a new f style for that price.

I trust your judgement. Problem is…the used F’s in the Eastman line are hard to come by. I’ve looked and looked.

I’m in no real hurry, though. I’ll keep looking.

Let me ask this…I saw on one site where one retailer was selling (cosmetic) blems (Loar’s). Does Eastman do anything like this? I’d do that in a minute.

Just to throw another few thoughts into the mix. If you are choosing a price point not based on what you can spend, but rather what you want to spend, let me try to twist your arm a little. If you buy a used mando that is just what you are looking for and it’s a bit more than what you want to spend, in my opinion, it’s not the end of the world. That money is sitting in the instrument, and you can get it back by selling it. If you buy a new $500 F5, you are looking at getting $400 back out of it, tops. The two points I am driving at are 1) If money is tight, buy used (or on a clearance sale if you find something you want). Used instruments don’t automatically depreciate. 2) Getting an instrument that is a little above your initial target that you love is far preferable to getting an instrument that does not inspire you to play it, regardless of how inexpensive it may be. Now that I said, that, I have a third point… I find it quite common that I don’t know what I want in an instrument until I have played similar instruments for some time.
With all that said, if you have a set amount you can spend, and you know you want an F5, then you shouldn’t have too much problem whittling down what your choices are. I don’t think there are too many out there for $500 and below.

I think I’m pretty much settled on the MD315 Eastman. Now, I have more questions…

  1. I don’t see many mando players playing with a capo. I’m guessing there’s novels that could be written on this subject…and that it’s subjective. Remember, I’m a complete newb on the mandolin. Explain with that in mind.

  2. Should I put new strings on it, right away? I can’t tell you how much I love Elixir strings on my guitars. I’m guessing they make 'em for mandolins (or hoping they do). Or, would you play the ones that came on it for a month and then switch?

That’s all I can think of, off the top of my head. I hope to pick one up, this week.

Also…I “might” would step up to the 515…if someone convinced me it was worth the extra $$. Again, I know NOTHING about these instruments, except they look like fun.


Congrats, I play a 615 and love it. But whatever you buy get it set up professionally, it is amazing the difference that can make.

To your first question Capo’s. If you go to mandolin cafe you will see that capos are very controversial, along with the topics Thile v. Monroe, reading notes. v. Tab, or are new gibsons over priced. IMHO these are mostly subjective or really need the answer to be “it depends” .

CAPOS: Mandolins with their uniform string intervals ( I.e. no b string that mixes things up) usually don’t need capos in jams since all you do is move your hands up or down for chords or scales and they are the same. Of course I speak of closed position scales and chop chords. That said capos are seen by many in the mando community as crutches and not kosher. Truth be told open chords sound different than closed position chords, and if you need a A# open chord sound by all means use them. Irish and British mando players use capos a lot but they play mandolas and octave mandolins more and have more space on the neck to use them. Personally, the mando is so small capos usually cramps me, but I have used them in Live situations which flakey singers. ( I now think Ben’s next lesson should closed position scales…if the interweb police are listening or watching me through my tv)

NEW STRINGS: Probably not, Eastman puts J74s on there and they should last you a bit. When you change strings know that the bridge is not attached ( like a violin) So change one string at a time. That said I love Elixirs not for their better sound than J74s but longevity. So ride out the 74s, put on Elixirs for a longer interval between changes.

As an almost complete newbie on mandolins, I can pitch in a few opinions.

  1. As verneq said, since you are more often than not playing closed chords (no open strings) you don’t need a capo for grass. If you play alternate styles with open chords then a capo would be handy for odd keys. As far as the controversy of it… if it gets you the sound you want and you are happy… who cares what others think. A capo can be thought of as a crutch, and it’s a fair assessment. On the other hand, it can be thought of as a tool. I think that is also a fair assessment when properly used.
    2)On changing out to Elixirs. My mando came with J73s. I just changed out to Elixir lights. To be honest, I like the J73s better “out of the box.” They had a livelier overall tone. The Elixirs do have a better balance between strings (the E is a bit wimpy on the 73s). I suspect I’ll like the Elixirs better than the J73s with 20 hours on them, but we’ll see.

One thing I suggest since you are new to mandolins… when doing a string change do not remove all the strings on your mando at the same time until you want to set the bridge position for intonation. It’s not glued on there and is held by string tension. If you leave a few strings on while replacing others, it holds it in place. With that said, setting the intonation is not the end of the world, but a non-fixed bridge is not something you run into on a flat top guitar.

OK…what happens when you switch from “G” (playing a song), to “A”? How is this done, sans a capo?

Just curious.

If I chord a “G” on my guitar with no capo, and a “G” on the mandolin with no capo…am I playing the same chord? If so, what happens (i.e. which chords do I play to accompany) when the guitar is capo’d up two frets (playing in “A”)?

I know this is elementary to some of you. Bear with me.

One way think of it is bar chords on the guitar. If you are playing a G chop on a mandolin (middle finger 3rd fret) then A would be a whole step or two frets up (middle finger on the 5th fret). Just like a guitar bar chord G is barred on the 3rd fret, The bar chord A is barred on the 5th.

I’m assuming this is the (well, one of) beauty of the mandolin, from a play=ability standpoint. The smaller scale makes what you’re describing possible.

More I read and hear, I think I’m going to get the 515.

I know nothing about this 315, I just saw it and thought I’d post a link:

Don’t know if you have any intrest in it or not but I listed in my earlier post that I have a 515 that I was using for my backup, I really like it , it is a great looking and sounding instrument, by far the best import I’ve ever heard outside of some of the high end Kentuckys. It has just had a professional setup done just a short time back complete with new Martin strings . I have played it a good bit and it is not in “like new” condition. It is however very nice . I have a top of the line Hard Case with it and a strap. The neck is small , same as on my Pricetone. It is very user friendly, action is medium/low fret pressure is light. It is easy to play. Serial number is 2012.
The only reason I am considering selling it is that I just acquired a vintage 1948 Gibson that is SWEET.
If you think you might be interested reply here and I’ll send you my email address

PM sent.

That’s a pretty back!

I also have a 515 that doesn’t get played much anymore but I’m not ready to part with it yet. Bought it new 6 years ago and it’s been a good mandolin. I would definately consider the one above if you can get it for a fair price. Hey Kagey what is that an '07 model? My serial # is 2074.

Hopefully, Kagey and I aren’t that far apart (distance). Seriously looking at his instrument.

It is a 07, didn’t buy it until late 09, it had sat in a box in the local music store up until then. Owner had never put it on display. I thought I’d found “excaliber” when he showed it to me!!! :mrgreen:

Well, after talking to Kagey (PM’s) and getting a warm & fuzzy feeling, I’m buying his 515.

A farmer, grasser AND a fellow hunter? No-brainer.

Thanks for all of your replies. Looking forward to getting the Eastman and completely humbling myself.