Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

To Mando, or Not to Mando; That is the Question

Hello. Long-time Ben follower, frequent forum lurker, and first-time poster. I am a guitar player with a question for the community… Should I pick up the mandolin? Given the audience, I’m suspecting the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. But to those who play both instruments, is the transition from guitar to mandolin a challenging or a relatively straightforward one? Perhaps more importantly, for any who made the transition, was the journey worthwhile? Did the mandolin fulfill you in ways that the guitar couldn’t? Some days I think it would be awesome to play mandolin. Other days I think I should just work on being a better guitar player.

I’ve been pondering this mandolin question for a while. During that time I’ve done some looking and developed an interest in the Eastman MD315. I’ve read good reviews and I find the matte finish pleasingly worn and old-timey. The only negatives I’ve read were about the tailpiece and the lesser-quality tuners. Does anyone in the community have opinions on the MD315?

For @BanjoBen - I see that the MD305 and the MD515 are both in the store; but not the MD315. Do you have experience with the MD315, would you recommend it, and is it something I could get through the store? I’d rather spend my money with you than with a faceless corporation.

Thanks to all for any help or guidance. And thanks to Ben for all that you do. It is crazy to think that there was a time when the G-run wasn’t part of my daily life. Those were dark days.

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Welcome to the forum, Chris! I think the transition from guitar to mandolin is the most natural I’ve experienced, yes. There are times when I want to play mando and guitar just can’t scratch that itch–just something about it. I’m laid up right now for 6 weeks and can’t walk from ankle surgery. My mandolin is closest. I know it’s the lightest, but it’s just what I naturally want to go to…relaxing to play.

The 315’s are excellent for the price and I recommend them. I would of course love to sell you one, not only because I want your money but also because I want to make sure you get a good one. They’re all pretty good, don’t get me wrong, but I like to make sure for my students. I have 4 of them on order right now but no ETA yet. Eastman has long delays sometimes. I completely understand if you want to go ahead and get one from somewhere else and I appreciate you asking and wanting to support the General Store!

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I played guitar in highschool and then not at all for decades. I picked up the mandolin in my mid-50s and found it it to be a fun, portable, lightweight and expressive instrument, and fairly easy to learn - in fact much simpler than the guitar. I say, GO FOR IT.

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Thanks for the quick response @BanjoBen. Also thanks for the encouragement @Mandolin_Mo. I think I agree with you. I should go for it. Being a so-so, average player of two instruments will be twice the fun.

@BanjoBen - I’ve waited 43 years to take up the mando, I can wait longer. If there is a list, put my name on it for one of the incoming 315’s. If there isn’t a list, I’ll just keep a watch on the General Store. Thanks again.

Absolutely, @Woodshed!

@Jake, let’s get Chris Carlson on the MD315 list, please.

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Welcome to the forum @Woodshed! Hopefully you don’t have to wait to long for the mando… I think you’ll find learning a second instrument is much easier than the first one. Also, while the techniques for each instrument are different, the hand/eye coordination skills developed learning the mandolin will increase your versatility on the guitar. Again, welcome and good luck!


Oh, Woodshed, you are about to partake in the pure joy of playing both guitar and mandolin. Just get you situated on the porch with both instruments and play one reveling in the acoustic pleasure til you 're worn out, then switch to the other and do the same all over again.


I got ya down on the list @Woodshed and will contact you as soon as they come in. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer.

Thanks @Jake!

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I love my md315! It’s a great instrument, not loud enough when played next to my wife’s bazillion dollar viola, but sounds great with other acoustic instruments (guitar, banjo) and is easy to play. For the most part I only have minor problems with tuning, unless switching from a humid to an arid environment, but I suspect that is the case with most instruments. The tuners could be better, but they rarely slip. Would have purchased mine from bens store too if I knew about him at all when I purchased it. I found and joined the site after buying mine a few years ago.

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I guess I’ll be the bad guy here, but just remember… you asked, therefore I will answer honestly.

1: Yes, you should take up the mandolin if there’s an interest and you have the funds. You won’t know until you try it out.
2: The transition from guitar to mandolin?.. Not all that much different as far as picking technique other than the tremolo. You’re basically just learning new chords and shapes. It should come rather easily. Trying to acheive good tone is important, I normally try to play as far away from the bridge as I can (more towards the fretboard) on mandolin. That’s where the best tone usually is. On guitar I play to the back of the soundhole on the bridge side.
3: Was the journey worthwhile? Yes, because I found out that it’s not for me which leads to question #4.
4: Did the mandolin fulfill in ways the guitar couldn’t? Not for me, not even close! This is where I become the negative bad guy. I would would always go back to the guitar after a while of playing mando and it always feels like … Ah, I’m home now… this is right! The mandolin and I just never clicked for some reason, even on things that I can play well.

Summary: Even though it didn’t work for me, I still think you should try it. If you don’t, you’ll always wonder what could have been. And if it doesn’t work, if you buy an Eastman, it should sell easily and you won’t be out much. I think you’ll like it though and will be happy you at least tried.

I’m sorry for being the negative one here, but it’s the honest truth.

I’ve recently taken up Dobro and so far having a blast with it, much more so than with mandolin. Even though, I’m glad I tried mandolin, I had some good times with it, but flatpicking guitar is where my heart will always be.

Hope you’re ok with my answers, they’re as honest as I could be.

Thanks for the questions,


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No need for apologies @jw11. Thanks for the honest feedback. It’s what I hoped for when I asked the question. While I suspect that guitar will always be my safe place, I’ve also been hankering for a new flavor of stringed instrument. And I don’t think my family is ready for me and a banjo.

Good luck with the dobro. I’ve always been mesmerized watching Jerry Douglas. I’m glad its resonating for you.

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Just curious if you ever followed through with purchasing the Mandolin? If so, which one and how do you like it?

I am about to buy one…

Thanks for asking @anon8000755 . I haven’t purchased yet. I was interested in the MD315. I have been waiting to hear from @Jake. Back in June they had some on order. I’m on the list, but I haven’t heard anything yet. @BanjoBen warned that it might be awhile. I’ve been meaning to check in with them. Thanks to technology, I think I just did.

You sure did! We just got them in. We have been adding SO much to the store…it’s crazy. Check it out here and let us know if you have any questions. The best way is to use the contact link on the store page:

We’re excited to get you taken care of! Thanks for your support of the General Store!


Chris, I have been “on the list” for awhile going back to the springtime when I bought a Banjo strap and also asked Ben and Jake the same question.

I have a MD315 on the way… and am so eager to receive it.

I think they might also have a 515 left - if it has not sold already.

I checked a relatively close music store that specializes in acoustics and guess what?

They were out and had long since ordered more but had no idea when they would receive a shipment.

My impression is that Eastmans are sought after and in low supply… attesting to their popularity as a solid choice (maybe one of the very best options) for under $1,000.

Seems that Mandolins are also gaining in popularity although I have wondered if it is just MY interest that has grown?

However, others that are “in the know” attest to the same. Mandos on the rise and Eastmans building on that reputation.

Time to bring this thread full circle and across the finish line. This week I received an Eastman mandolin from the General Store.

I could write about how pretty the mandolin is, its build quality, or how good it will sound once I learn how to play it. But that’s not the important part. That’s the story of Eastman as a fine instrument maker. You can find that story all over the Internet. The important story is about the top-notch customer care and service received from the General Store.

During my purchase I had the opportunity to communicate with both @BanjoBen and @Jake. They were both very available for questions and quick with answers. It was clear that their purpose for the Store is to make happy customers. You can sell someone almost anything once. It takes honesty and integrity to build the trust that keeps customers coming back. These guys have my trust.

If you are reading this then you are on the forum. That likely means that you are already Team Ben. So perhaps I am just preaching to the choir. But if there is anyone out there waffling on a purchase and deciding where to lay down your dollars, I encourage you to go to the General Store. It’s good people supporting good people.


Hey Chris,

Ditto for me… (dramatic, ominous-sounding ECHO effect inserted here)…

The buying experience was AWESOME - SOME - some…

@Jake made me feel like a friend as much as a customer! He answered every silly question and for that, I am grateful as he seem to recognize just how special the purchase is for me - B-Day present and all!

I know @Jake and @BanjoBen literally deals with hundreds of instruments so it is great for them to remember and participate in what that 1st new instrument :violin: purchase is like - right from our teachers!

What can inspire us more than that, I ask? Where else can we hope to get THAT level of service?

Chris, I am speculating you got a MD515… is that right?

Hope to see you around the Mando side of the Forum!

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Thanks @WillCoop. You’re correct, I went with the 515. How are you enjoying your new Eastman?

I’m coming at it from playing guitar. I need to get used to the small fingerboard. It makes me feel like a clumsy giant.



I enjoy my 315 very much. You know, I have pretty decent calluses… but the combo of the strumming exercises and the small frets are taking a bit of a toll in finger fatigue.

I’m sure I am probably just “trying too hard”… but…

I also feel so clumsy over the small fretboard and… in the Arkansas Traveler lesson, the end calls for a 4 fret spread on the low G & D strings… a hand position stretch that I fumble to hit cleanly… which is probably precisely why it is the 2nd song that is introduced in the Beginner course. Get the basics and fundamentals down, right?

Coming from Banjo, it sure is wild to be strumming in the alternating patterns of downbeating on the G string before the strum chords trips me up. I know some basic (electric) guitar from years back… but this is a whole new ballgame! I am sure you are off to a better start with your background.

Finally, I really enjoy it and am very happy with my Eastman. It would be cool to continue to compare notes with you as we learn.

All the best on your Mando Excursion.