mando advice

13 replies [Last post]
mando advice

Hi all,

Sometime just into the new year I'm planning to buy my first mando.
Scott is tired of me abusing his 1918 Gibson when we get together and
although he keeps telling my that 'Funkytown' is not the worlds best
song played on the mandolin (ever), I hold fast to my claim.

At any rate, I know precious little about the makes of mandolins, so I'd
appreciate any advice from the mando pickers among you about what to look
for and which makes to try. I'd also like to buck tradition and get one
that I plan to keep for a while rather than buying a beater to determine
what I like before making the big purchase. I'll be looking in the $1000
range and I don't really have a preference between A or F styles as far
as astetics are concerned, but I'd be interested to know more about
the tonal differences between the two.

Obviously a Gibson would be nice, but I'm not sure I'm going to be able to
find even a used one in my price range which carries the signature sound.
I have heard a lot about Eastmans lately and another mando playing friend
of mine (who does like Funkytown) just picked one up, so I'm waiting to
hear a verdict from him. I've also heard good things about the Summit
mandos and I know a local dealer who carries them.

Anyway, I've got a while to look and test drive, so I thought I'd put the
question out there for our sage users.

Play Well.

Commenting on this Forum topic is closed.

Joined: 17 Jan 2007
Groups: None
Eastman Mandos

I do not know from personal experience (not being a mando player) but the Eastmans were reviewed in Vintage Guitar a couple months ago by a guy that also writes for Stereophile and some other publications. He claimed that the sound, fit and finish were all top notch for being an Asian import. I have a buddy that plays a Michael Kelly that sounds nice (He doesn't like his pre war Gibsons to go traveling that much)

Hope it helps. Good luck

Joined: 7 Jan 2007
Groups: None

Hi, Shawn,
There are a lot of threads about Eastmans on Mandolin Cafe.
I'm a big Weber fan so if you wanted any information, please
let me know.
Best of luck!

Cool Mandolin Company

"With all those curves, there have to be strings attached."(tm) - Cool Mandolin Company

Further research

Hey guys,

Thanks for the feedback. I've been doing some more research, including the extremely helpful archives on Mandolin Cafe and I've been trying out any mando that I can get my hands on at a jam or in local music shops.

Since my original post, I've taken a friend's Eastman MD815 out for a couple of spins and while I think it's a fine mandolin in the mid-range class, the tone is a little too bright for my tastes and I wasn't in love with the action (although I know that somewhat tunable).

I've got a line on several other mandos that I think will come closer to what I am looking for in tone and comfort. The first is a '92 Flatiron Festival A, which I really like and the other is a Summit A200 of about the same era (I believe). They both have a relatively mellow sound, although I think the Summit probably cuts through a little more than the Flatiron. They are both equally comfortable to play and are of comparable price, so if I bought an instrument tomorrow, it would probably be one of these two.

I don't see much press about the new mandolins made by Breedlove, but I bought one of their first Atlas series guitars and it has been an outstanding mid-range instrument. I'd like to try out one of their mandos, just to give it a shot, but I don't think there are any dealers that carry them in this area. I'd certainly be interested in anyone's extended experience with them.

Laura, I've really liked all of the Webers I've played, but they've also all been pretty high end specimens. :) I played a blonde Bitterroot at the local acoustic music shop that was quite nice indeed.


Joined: 16 Feb 2007
Groups: None
Eastmans and Webers

Since I own both let me add my two cents. I own an Eastman 815 with the Spirit Varnish finish, and I gotta tell you it is in my opinion THE BEST import out there. Even tho they are made over seas, the Eastman folks, who have a long rep for fine Orchestral Instruments keep a very close eye on there luthiers. Their website used to have a stp by step photo page about how they are made. I will keep it forever. If the action is lowered to a standard 16th I think you would find it VERY playable. I also appreciate the thinner specs on the neck which makes moving around a breeze. It's a definite winner.

Now having said that, and living in Montana, I also am the proud owner of a Weber Fern, and the previous owner of a beautiful quilted back Weber Gallatin. several weeks ago I had the pleasure of paying a visit to their studio/factory in Logan, Montana while on a trip over to Bozeman. These folks, from Bruce on down the line are so concerned and dedicated to their instruments that as a long time player, over 40 years, that I went away feeling as though the right people not only made me their best but deserved every dollar I've spent there.

For a homegrown mando, you can't beat Weber....period!

Hope that helps.


I traded my 1917 Gibson for an Eastman 615, and have no regrets whatsoever. Better tone, volume, and playability (longer neck). IMO, the best around for the money. If you have a bigger budget, you can't go far wrong with Weber or Summit, or an old Flatiron. Play'em all, take your time, and pick the one that talks to you.

Ringing endorsement

Wow, trading a Gibson of that era for one of the new Eastmans is quite a statement. The only Eastman I've played extensively (over maybe two sessions) was an 815, which I believe has similar tonal qualities but is outfitted a little bit differently. I certainly liked aspects of it, but I'm not sure I was left strongly perfering it over the typical teen and twenties Gibsons. But as you say, it's all in what speaks to you.

I'm glad you put Flatiron in the same boat as Summit and Weber because I've found a 92 Festival A which I really like hanging in a local shop (Mountain Music, of whom you no doubt know :). I'm going to go back and play it a little more, but I'm thinking it might follow me home soon.


And the winner is...

It's funny how things turn out. I picked up dozens of mandolins in stores and at jams, comparing each against an internal list of criteria. I was looking for a certain sound and a certain feel. To be honest, I ruled out Eastmans early on. I could tell they were well made instruments and I appreciated their sound, but it simply wasn't the intonation I was looking for and I didn't feel as comfortable as I wanted playing them. I definitely enjoyed some of the Summit and Collings mandos that I played (who wouldn't :) but the ones that spoke to me were well beyond my cost parameters.

In the end I went with a lovely instrument I hadn't even been considering. It's a classic Gibson A1 circa 1917 and it is in absolutely cherry condition. I picked it up from a Luthier in Lawrence (Jim Jeans) who has been playing it for the past four years as his primary instrument. I don't know when you traded yours woodwiz, but since we are in the same area, it's possibly the same one. Wouldn't that be wild?

Jim refretted it and made some slight repairs to the side plate of the finger board, but other than that it is 100 percent original. This mando is almost identical to Scott's and in fact he got his from the same Luthier. The difference is that the one I bought was the one that the Jim _wouldn't_ sell four years ago. I love bringing that up.

I know many a blog and forum post have been written about how awesome these old Gibsons are, so I'm not going to go into it too deeply. I will say that this was the instrument for me right now because it scored nearly perfectly in the two criteria that were most important to me. Its sound profile is soft and clear and it deeply resonates on every note. For comfort I really didn't pick up anything else that came close other than maybe the nicer Collings. The action is low and smooth and although the neck is a little thicker than some modern mandos, I find the fingerboard super smooth to traverse.

Thanks to everyone who gave input during my extended search. It was all very helpful.

See ya.

Play Well.

At last...

People at jams won't think I'm Shawn's roadie, just there to carry "his" mandolin in my dual fiddle/mando case[1]. He may enjoy pointing out that he got the mandolin that Jim would not sell when I bought his first 191x era A1, but I'll enjoy having the opportunity to play it again.



Joined: 8 Jan 2008
Groups: None
Handmade instruments.

Trying to find people interested in handmade mandolins and guitars. I have finished a nice one Dec 07. Do any readers on need a new one or an old one repaired?
Dave Also Builds Mandolins & Dulcimers
816-678-FALK (3255)

View informal images of Falk Guitars


Joined: 8 Jan 2008
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Handmade instruments are the best made instruments

Handmade is the best made. One cannot find better instruments than those made by hand as opposed to manufactured instruments. Many instruments are better values than those of the factory. Many times the instruments are the same cost the player or sometimes less depending on the luither. If at all possible I urge people interested in buying instruments to buy U.S. and use U.S. luithers.

Dave Also Builds Mandolins & Dulcimers
816-678-FALK (3255)

View informal images of Falk Guitars


Joined: 31 Jan 2008
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Eastman mandolins, etc.

I have a terrific Eastman mandolin, a varnished and Mandovoodooed 615 (F style), and I definitely wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Eastman brand. Like anything, some stand out over others, even of the same model. From the 5xx series to the 6xx series, you would take a step up in hardware and back binding. Beyond that, from the 6xx series upward, the differences are cosmetic, I'd just pick the one that sounds/plays the best.

As for the brightness, mine has mellowed tremendously in the couple of years that I've owned it. It's like a different instrument.

As for A styles versus F styles, there shouldn't be a noticeable difference (aside from price due to extra labor) in volume, tone, etc., as the points and scroll are mostly solid anyway. Tone and volume has more to do with the fundamental build quality of the instrument in question.

Though the Eastman is a very good instrument, the Summit and the Flatiron would both be a step up in my book, as well as probably a financial step up. Also you might consider a used Gibson A9 if you're in that range, also a lot of instrument for the money.

Good luck.

Joined: 25 Jun 2008
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Yes handmade are some of the best I have played

Two thumbs up.

Joined: 28 Jan 2009
Groups: None

I have an Eastman, several Washburns (One 100 years old) and a Gibson...The Gibson and Webers are the Rolls Royce...BUT...Dollar for dollar...The Eastman is great...BUT...Have a pickguard put on it...They're too darned pretty to muck up...

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