Since visiting Nashville two years ago my fascination with country music has been insatiable. Not only have I deep dived into country and southern rock, I have been revisiting country laced rock classics. Disks like The Rolling Stones “Exile on Main Street”, Elton John’s “Tumbleweed Connection”, and The Dead String Brother’s “San Paulo” have received considerable playtime of late.
My flirtation with this style of music has me looking at different techniques and textures associated with this genre. This paired with my obsession with everything Led Zeppelin brought me to the realization that I MUST learn to play the mandolin.
In researching this instrument, I found there to be two major styles available, the F-body and A-body. The F body or Florentine is generally used for bluegrass and tends to have a bit of grit and bark to the tone. The A-body is generally used for folk and classical has an acoustic style sound hole and is known for a sweeter bell like sound.
Another important design factor for me is electronics. Being a rocker at heart, I know at some point I am going to want to play any instrument loud. I have no visions of playing the mandolin in a coffee shop. If I do gig with the mandolin eventually it will be with a band and amplification will be a must have. Price was also a major factor. I found cheaper mandolins ranging from under $100 to beautiful artisan instrument costing thousands.
As I tell people when they come to me for advice on buying a first guitar, never buy a cheap instrument. Buying an inferior instrument when first learning to play presents many problems. If the action (distance between the strings and the neck) is too high on an instrument, it will be difficult and sometimes painful to play. In addition, the better an instrument sounds the more you are prone to pick it up.
After much research I chose a great mid-range A-body mandolin from a trusted manufacturer, and Ibanez M510EDVS. Price aside a few factors drew me to this instrument. The instrument is made with mahogany back and sides with a spruce top. From what I know about this configuration from guitar construction, I knew I would get great tone and projection with this instrument. I was right, the M510EDVS is loud, and it sings.
The mandolin has a beautiful tone acoustic or electric. The action of the mandolin is more than comfortable with no fret buzzing. It has a fast bound rosewood neck with dot inlays. The mandolin has Florentine style f-hole instead of the traditional A-body round sound hole. This adds a bit of bite to the tone, the mandolin gets real funky when I take a slide to it.
Plugging it in the M510EDVS, it is conspicuously quite for an instrument with a single coil pickup. Even after adding a bit of chorus and reverb via my stompboxes line noise was not a problem.
The Ibanez M510EDVS is finished off with chrome hardware including quality tuners and bridge. The body is bound with a classy five layer black and white binding adding a touch of class to the instrument. This mandolin is not only a great starter instrument but also a piece of gear I would feel more than comfortable taking on a professional gig. Priced just under $200 the M510EDVS is a low cost option to start your journey to the world of this eight-string wonder. The sound, style and playability of this instrument is best of class.